We never want another family to have to go through the shock and grief that we experienced when our teenage son Matthew died suddenly from a severe asthma attack at school. Even though it happened 16 years ago, at times it still feels like yesterday. A tragedy like this is something no parent can ever completely overcome.
Matthew was first diagnosed with asthma at age 8. He used an inhaler as needed and occasionally had to receive nebulizer treatments, but he never required emergency care, and we had no concerns about him enjoying outdoor activities, including summer baseball and sledding in the winter. The only time we were reminded that he had asthma was when he had a cold and would start to cough and get short of breath.
Everything changed one day in 1997. The school called saying, "We've had a problem with Matthew." Our first thought was he was in trouble. But no, the principal said they had called an ambulance and Matthew was on the way to the hospital. When we finally saw Matthew, his skin was blue and his pupils were dilated and fixed. We knew needed a miracle, but that didn't happen. Matthew never regained consciousness.
Later, we found out that Matthew had told his gym teacher that he needed his inhaler and the teacher had sent him to the locker room by himself. The amount of time that elapsed is questionable, but we do know that Matthew was in full cardiac arrest when another teacher found him.
Life for Jeff and myself, along with Matthew's sister Bethany, who is now 33, will never be the same. Our daughter also has asthma, but her condition is currently well managed. For the past nine years, we've participated in the American Lung Association's Fight for Air Walks to raise money and awareness about asthma. Jeff never misses an opportunity to support other parents who have tragically and unexpectedly lost children as we did.
I am currently the asthma nursing education coordinator at Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley. I talk to parents, school nurses and anyone who is interested about the impact of asthma on children and how it is a chronic disease that can flare-up unexpectedly.
Any child asking for an inhaler or experiencing asthma symptoms should receive immediate medical treatment and never be left alone without adult supervision. Over the years, we have seen an increase in the number of children with asthma. Numerous medical studies have pointed to a disturbing link between air pollution from traffic and health problems in children, especially asthma and other respiratory issues. It's time we as a society voice our concerns about air quality and allow the EPA to move forward on new health and safety standards for gasoline and tailpipe emissions. Future generations of children depend on it.