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World Asthma Day: Taupō boy shares story of asthma attack that threatened his life

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Today is World Asthma Day and to advocate for the importance of asthma education, one brave Waikato boy has shared his story with the Waikato Herald.

“I was terribly scared.”

Those were the words Taupō 11-year-old Jamie Ross used to describe a serious asthma attack he suffered two years ago.

Jamie turned blue and limp and had to spend days in hospital with only one functioning lung.

According to information from Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, people with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs.

The airways may tighten, partially close up, swell and make more mucus when faced with certain triggers.

This makes it hard to breathe in, and even harder to breathe out. There is no cure.

“My asthma acts up in the cold when I’m doing lots of exercise like sprinting,” Jamie said.

“It’s very hard to breathe. I can’t really control myself. My lungs feel tight. I feel like coughing and I get tired.”

Jamie has had asthma his whole life and when he was 9 the condition caused complications that could have taken his life.

“It started with what we thought was a bit of a cold,” Jamie’s mum, Helen Ross, said.

“We noticed he was getting unwell for a few days. For him, any kind of sickness is a bit of a trigger.”

Jamie Ross' asthma put him in hospital when he was 9 years old. Photo / Helen Ross
Jamie Ross’ asthma put him in hospital when he was 9 years old. Photo / Helen Ross

Helen is a nurse. Her husband Jeremy, Jamie’s dad, is a paramedic. When they heard Jamie wheezing they took precautions.

“We took him to the doctors and we upped his asthma treatment.”

But even these early interventions did not help. On the third day of his illness, Jamie had a serious asthma attack.

“He was a limp little boy with blue lips,” Helen said.

“It’s pretty horrible seeing your child’s lips turning blue and not being able to catch his breath.”

Jamie was rushed to Taupō Hospital and then transferred to Rotorua Hospital for treatment.

Doctors found Jamie’s illness had developed into pneumonia and his whole right lung wasn’t functioning.

Helen said a tube needed to be inserted to force air through and open up Jamie’s lung.

“I was terribly scared. I thought it was very life-threatening,” Jamie said.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Jamie Ross, 9, in hospital after a severe asthma attack caused him to turn blue. Photo / Helen Ross
Jamie Ross, 9, in hospital after a severe asthma attack caused him to turn blue. Photo / Helen Ross

“My asthma was two times as bad. I couldn’t stand up at all. I couldn’t stand up without feeling wheezy. I would have an asthma attack every hour or two. It was hard to breathe in general.

“I had to have an air tube put in my nose to get air in and out.”

Jamie stayed in hospital for three days and has since fully recovered.

These days, the 11-year-old is back to his active lifestyle. Helen said he plays sports almost every day of the week.

“I do swimming, mountain biking, long-distance running, sometimes football,” Jamie said.

“I like hockey the most.”

He also enjoys playing guitar and is learning an AC/DC track from his dad’s playlist.

Jamie is also aware of the need to use his regular inhaler to help manage his asthma. He hopes other kids can learn the importance of learning about their asthma too.

“They need to know that they need to take care of it with inhalers. They need to learn to control it. They need to learn how it strikes and to warn someone to get them to help.”

Jamie Ross, 11, and his mum Helen have shared their story on World Asthma Awareness Day.
Jamie Ross, 11, and his mum Helen have shared their story on World Asthma Awareness Day.

Helen said education around asthma was “massively” important.

“Medication is changing all the time. Information is changing all the time,” she said.

“I wish I could wave a magic wand and we’d have safe houses free from triggers and all the rest of it but in the meantime, education is important.”

Helen said she and Jamie would be taking part in information sessions at local schools to raise awareness about asthma among children and educators.

“[In an emergency] it can be scary for the teachers, for the kids and for that child having an asthma attack and having more people around you being scared can make it worse.

“But if kids were to see another child with asthma and learn about what they could do and the teachers can access that information as well, they can be well-informed.”

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation chief executive Letitia Harding.
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation chief executive Letitia Harding.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ is raising funds this World Asthma Day to enrol as many health professionals as possible on a course that provides critical education on asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) management.

Foundation chief executive Letitia Harding said education was crucial to ensuring better outcomes for the 700,000 Kiwis with respiratory conditions.

“Jamie’s experience illustrates the frightening reality of asthma attacks, especially for children and their families.

“It’s a reminder of the urgent need for both awareness and education to ensure better management and outcomes for those living with respiratory conditions.”

In New Zealand, 98 people die each year from asthma and thousands of children are hospitalised.

Maryana Garcia is a Hamilton-based multimedia reporter covering breaking news in Waikato. She previously wrote for the Rotorua Daily Post and Bay of Plenty Times.

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