For someone interested in asthma, there’s been plenty in the news lately to catch Cindy Coopersmith’s eye.
First, the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires scorched Colorado and sent billowing smoke into the air, sullying air quality. Now it’s the 2012 Olympics and the chance for an asthmatic swimmer to make history.
A registered respiratory therapist and certified asthma educator at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Coopersmith — who has asthma — says children were particularly susceptible to asthma and other breathing challenges due to fire smoke that lingered in communities from Colorado Springs to Cheyenne. University of Colorado Health issued written alerts and short videos with advice on symptoms and tips for avoiding the smoke.
Aside from the impact of these two major fires creating breathing problems in children, it’s estimated that 5 million children in the U.S. have asthma, so the disease’s effect on children, their families and society is no small matter.
With the Olympics underway in London, which has some of the worst smog in Europe, broadcasters will be talking about asthma because one of the super athletes, Peter Vanderkaay, is living proof that asthma can be managed. Diagnosed at a young age, the world-class swimmer has control of his asthma.
Compared to the rest of the population, in which asthmatic conditions exist in an estimated 15 million to 25 million Americans, Olympic athletes have a disproportionate tendency toward asthma or exercise-induced asthma. Among famous Olympians with asthma are former runner Jackie Joyner-Kersee and five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken.
As these Olympians demonstrated, asthma can be successfully managed even under such extreme conditions as smog and smoke, Coopersmith says.
Asthma begins with simple day-to-day challenges, and that’s where Taming the Tiger comes in.
Taming the Tiger is a 6-hour educational program that helps people with asthma—particularly children and their families—manage the coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, increased respiratory rate, and other effects of asthma. The “tiger” in the class name, by the way, represents the traumatic and life-altering changers that asthma can bring about.
People from Denver, Sterling, Rifle, and Cheyenne, as well as northern Colorado communities, have attended the class since it was launched in 2001. Coopersmith recently celebrated—by doing a fun dance in her office—the 200th asthma patient and family attending the class.
Kristin Cox of Fort Collins can attest to the benefits of the class. By age three, her son, Kaden, had been admitted to PVH twice and visited the ER several times due to asthma. “He was miserable and I was miserable,” she says.
From miserable to active
She says Taming the Tiger changed her life and, most importantly, improved Kaden’s. Today, he is an active six-year-old who knows about managing his own asthma. He hasn’t been in the hospital for breathing problems since the class and only had to use asthma medication once rather than regularly.
“He tells us when he needs his inhaler,” Cox says. “Before, he played soccer and couldn’t keep up with the rest of the team. Now, he plays soccer, baseball and just about everything without restrictions.”
What should you do if you suspect your child has asthma? Coopersmith offers this advice:
- When you go to your doctor to explore asthma symptoms, be a good reporter. Tell the doctor your child’s story. Mention all instances of breathing problems that you remember over your child’s lifetime.
- Learn as much about asthma as you can to manage your child’s asthma. Help your child learn to manage it, too. (More info on managing asthma.)
“You’ll get to a place where managing your child’s asthma becomes second nature,” Coopersmith says.
This blog was written by Gary Kimsey, marketing and public relations specialist for University of Colorado Health, and Lynn Utzman-Nicols, a freelance writer based in Fort Collins, Colo.