/Asthma deaths Mississippi leads the US But families, advocates and doctors are responding to the problem

Asthma deaths Mississippi leads the US But families, advocates and doctors are responding to the problem

After a decade of asthma attacks, Wells finally made her first major change. She moved her three children out of the mold-infested home they shared with their mother and bought a new house. The single mother of three had never thought it possible before. She saved up and made it happen. Their three-bedroom home has a large yard and is quiet. It’s more square footage to maintain and a larger rent bill but it’s worth the peace of mind knowing her daughters aren’t getting sick. Wells stated that you need to be careful with your children because I am not trying to go to the hospital with my child. To avoid their asthma triggers, Wells makes sure to clean up, avoid smoking, and monitor her children’s outdoor activities. Like any parent, her biggest fear is that Madison and Makayla, her twins, will have a severe asthma attack and not be able to travel to the hospital. Jackson is the most deadly city in America for asthmatic people. Mississippi was the state with the highest number of asthma-related deaths per capita in 2016. It has been a top state for a long time. On the “2019 Allergy Capitals” list, Jackson is also higher than many Southern cities. Although other cities may have similar allergens, triggers, and higher rates of asthma, Mississippi has the highest asthma death rate. Although Jackson residents aren’t at greatest risk, experts claim that health officials have failed to emphasize prevention and education as two of the most important avenues of protection against asthma. Sanaz Eftekhari is a vice president of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. She published the “Asthma Capitals” report. Jackson’s Green and Healthy Homes Initiative is here to help. Jackson’s Green and Healthy Homes Initiative runs a program called “Healthy Homes for Kids”. This program helps families to reduce asthma triggers in their homes. It provides everything they need, including allergen-catching vacuums and allergy-friendly cleaning products that are safe for those with asthma and allergies. Jarkisha Spann is a community education specialist who says that health literacy is a major part of the program. Spann said that bleach can trigger asthma. She also mentioned the dangers of using incense, candles and air freshener. “We love smells good,” Spann said. She joined the organization in 2015 as a volunteer and has since become a full-time employee. Spann is now able to manage her son’s asthma better. Wells’ constant fear of having an asthmatic child is something she shares with Wells. Spann said, “Most people I visit are surprised that no one has ever explained to them about the triggers.” “Even a physician or pediatrician — they don’t even explain these things to them. I know this firsthand because my children have asthma and no one ever explained that to me. They sent us home with meds.” It is common for asthma and allergies to occur together. Asthma can be triggered by environmental and household allergens like pollen, dust and pet dander. Parents who don’t suffer from the condition often don’t know how their children’s breathing habits affect them. They often just notice the wheezing and wheezing when it has escalated beyond control. Spann described a training session she attended with the American Lung Association. One of the exercises had asthma educators breathe through a coffee straw while their nose was plugged. That’s how it feels for someone suffering from asthma attacks. Spann and Catherine Lee, the program coordinator, repeat the same mantra: Asthma safety is about education and prevention. This requires a team-based approach. The non-profit partners with Central Mississippi Health Services (a Jackson-based clinic). The clinic’s pediatrician, Dr. Janice Bacon has helped Wells’ patients better understand the disease, as well as her own children. Bacon explained that patients must be vigilant about taking their medication and protecting themselves from triggers. Bacon stated that while you can optimize the control medicine, if you are still being exposed daily to your number one and number two triggers, especially if they’re indoors or in your bedroom, it’s a vicious circle. Jackson residents in greater poverty may find it difficult to prevent the disease. On the one hand, there are the high costs of inhalers and nebulizer machines, as well as the medication itself. It can also be hard to get landlords to fix indoor triggers such as mold and mildew. Bacon provided a nebulizer machine for the Wellses, one for each twin, to aid in breathing at night. He also connected the family with the Healthy Homes program to conduct a home-based risk assessment. Bacon stated, “How much can the owner do without getting you in trouble with you living situation?” The program urged the Wells family to leave their moldy apartment. Mississippi’s landlord-tenant laws permit tenants to end their lease without penalty, provided that all rent has been paid and conditions are not unhealthy. Over 100 people have been served by the “Healthy Homes for Kids Program” over the past three years. 90 percent of them are below $25,000. These households had the most severe asthma triggers: mold, bleach, and air fresheners. After the program’s three-month duration, clients who reported their child had asthma under control increased from 35 percent up to 90 percent. Families found that learning about their child’s triggers and how to reduce them was crucial. They also discovered that swapping out cleaning products was one of the most beneficial changes. There were also fewer emergency room visits, less missed school days and less dependence on rescue medication. Lee said that the last three-month individualized program was completed. However, she is still looking for additional revenue streams for next year. Families with asthma or allergies at home are always welcome to call Lee. Programs like the Memphis-based La Bonheaur Children’s Hospital that has enrolled almost 600 children to control asthma triggers at home are a good example of Mississippi’s health policy. This program helped reduce hospitalizations by 70% and reduced the costs of care for each child by half. The state spends almost $63 million annually for asthma-related emergency room visits, according to the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative. In 2016, Hinds County saw over 3,500 asthma-related emergency room visits. Bacon stated that asthma patients can be made more vulnerable by sudden changes in Mississippi’s weather. This is why emergency department visits spike around this time of the year. In a November interview, she stated that “For example, it’s going to rain today and the high will be 37 by Tuesday next week.” It happens that a child might be dressed in a certain way in the morning, but when they return from school, it will be different. It’s a matter of dressing them appropriately.” The Wells family has done much better since moving to a new house and using home prevention strategies. The girls are healthy and happy, with the exception of a recent flare-up due to asthma. The girls are excited to have a large yard and a quiet street to cycle down. However, their grass allergy means that they can’t go outside. Wells stated that they are allergic to grass, pollen and dirt. I do allow them to have some outside time. We bike, but we don’t spend too much time outside. “We’ll ride down the street, and come back.” Although seasonal and unpredicted weather changes can cause havoc for most immune systems and make it difficult to maintain a healthy immune system, respiratory complications can be even more dangerous for asthma patients and their families. Wells described her daughter’s asthma attack as “just making everything worse.” Wells was also grateful for the additional support. Wells expressed gratitude for Bacon’s extra support, saying that she hasn’t heard her children sneeze, and that they haven’t been sick. It has helped me a lot, and lowered my stress. It helps, even if you are a single parent. It is always great to have that support.” To help us continue important work such as this, you can make a recurring donation to the Spring Member Drive today.