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Jennifer A.

One summer, I had a cough that just wouldn't go away. It seemed to get worse over the course of a month. Then, while my family and I were on vacation in Canada (where there was lots of grass and blooming trees, which is very different than the dry climate of the desert where I grew up), the cough really got bad. It got so bad that we went to a pediatrician, who told us to get to a hospital immediately. I kept telling everyone that I felt fine, that I was just sick of this cough. But after being admitted to the hospital and being told I was actually suffering from an acute asthma attack, we all realized the cough was something worse.

My memories are spotty, given that I was only nine years old at the time, but I do remember how hard it was to walk down the halls of the hospital while dragging various equipment with me. And I still remember the smell of the oxygen from the tubes that ran through my nose as my lungs struggled to function properly. I ended up staying in the hospital for two days, hooked up to oxygen tanks and IVs. I was diagnosed with asthma and I discharged with a long-term medication and a rescue inhaler.

Fast-forward 25 years, and I still have to deal with my asthma every day. My asthma is especially triggered by allergies, which I suffer from greatly. I am able to control my symptoms by taking two types of preventive asthma medication, OTC allergy pills, and by receiving weekly allergy shots. There have been times when my asthma medication was too expensive (one of the medications, for example, was over $300 when I didn't have health insurance) or when allergy shots weren't an option for various reasons (usually due to not being covered by health insurance or not being offered after work hours). At those times, my asthma wasn't well-controlled, and I inevitably wound up at my doctor's office or urgent care, scared because I couldn't breathe and worried that I was damaging my lungs irreparably by using my rescue inhaler too much.

Staying consistent with my preventive medication and taking care to avoid as many of my allergy triggers as possible can be a pain, but it's necessary. Asthma can't be cured, and while it is completely manageable, it still interferes with my daily life. Traveling becomes tricky, as does moving, changing jobs, going to school, or doing anything that may cause my health insurance to lapse or doctors to change. I support Lung Force and the American Lung Association because I hope someday we will have a cure.

Lung disease can strike anyone, just as it did me, someone who never smoked nor had family members who smoked. I applaud the work ALA is doing to eliminate asthma disparities (children who live in poverty are more likely to have asthma, for example, and African-American children are four times more likely to die from an asthma attack than Caucasian children), and hope that someday we can ensure all children have the opportunity to breathe easy.

First published: October 17, 2016

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