My son follows my count, breathing through each syllable and the moment slowly passes.
Three. Four. Five.
These 5-second moments are routine in our house. His heart rate slows and his breathing returns to normal.
Since his first emergency room visit at 9 months old, my son, Kaeden, has been living with asthma.
By his second birthday, inhalers and nebulizers were as much a part of Kaeden’s life as cartoons and Cheerios. His asthma plan was the first topic of conversation between us and his kindergarten teacher.
The numbers show our family is not alone. Asthma is the leading chronic illness among children in the United States, affecting 1.2 million kids under age 5. In Kentucky alone, 10 percent of children age 11 and younger have asthma. Asthma also accounts for the greatest number of admissions to Norton Children’s Hospital.
The stats are telling, yet they don’t tell our story.
When Kaeden was an infant, the breathing treatments were the worst part of our day. And they happened every day. When he noticed my wife or me with the blue nebulizer machine in hand, he would start to squirm and try to hide.
One of us had to be the soothing presence with a bear trap grip while the other worked to simply keep the medicinal mask on his head. Once the machine turned on, the tear-stained mayhem began.
Twenty seconds in, he would scream and cry so loud that the machine was just white noise. Every day I wondered, “Is there any other way?”
Now, at age 5, Kaeden’s asthma keeps us in a constant state of high alert. We’ve gotten the phone call from school many times. The voice on the other end is heightened and, through the receiver, we can hear his wheezing in the background.
I can imagine the way his chest tightens for air and almost hear him whispering, “one, two, three, four, five” in his sweet voice. It breaks my heart.
Understanding the full breadth of asthma is more than understanding the disease. There’s the effect on every aspect of our family — work, school, activities.
We cut trips short and limit time outside when pollen counts are high.
Sometimes letting Kaeden spend the night with family and friends is more trouble than it’s worth.
We realize some situations are out of our control. His triggers — cold air, high pollen counts, respiratory infections, bonfires and smoke — are outside of parental bounds.
Medicine is critical for kids with asthma. Well, medicine and love. And patience. Thankfully, love and patience are what make a parent of a child with asthma.
Love and patience aside, the diagnosis remains and we have a solid plan for managing it. We know how many puffs until the prescription runs out and when an attack warrants a doctor’s visit. We’ve moved on from nebulizer treatments in a restaurant corner to a red inhaler on the baseball field.
Children with asthma are silent warriors.
Parents, take a breath. A long, full breath.