My hometown in Adams County, Mississippi is very rural but also industrial. We had a lot of smoke stacks, a lot of factories and a lot of truck drivers. I didn’t give it much thought when I was growing up, but when my oldest daughter was born, she developed asthma and was always coughing and wheezing. More than once it got bad enough for her be admitted to the hospital.
I remember watching while she slept inside an oxygen tent in the hospital and feeling that as a mom I needed to know more about the lungs, her disease process and how to help her. I had originally intended to go to school for nursing, but seeing my child suffer launched my career as a respiratory therapist.
Interestingly, our family moved to Virginia and my daughter's lung condition improved greatly. My two other younger children, both of whom were born in Virginia, don't have any respiratory issues at all.
I've been a respiratory therapist for about 11 years and love the field. I've worked in both the hospital setting and in long-term care. Over the years, I've noticed that a fluctuation in air quality or an extreme shift in climate can have a tremendous impact on my patients, especially those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who already have compromised lungs.
At times when the air is particularly bad, it can trigger an increase in the number of people struggling to breathe or having an asthma attack severe enough to require emergency room care or even hospitalization. Sometimes patients will stay overnight at the hospital until they are more stable, only to go home and need to be re-admitted a week or two later. When you're struggling to breathe and just can't get enough air into your lungs, it can be terrifying, as well as life threatening.
I make a point to educate my patients that they need to monitor their lungs on a daily basis, bring their inhalers with them and know what could trigger an attack. But the one trigger they can't control is the air quality. That's why I support the American Lung Association in its fight to protect clean air for everyone, especially those who are most vulnerable like my patients.