‘Asthma Changed My Life, Now I Am Giving Back’

KathyBy Kathy Poehling 

Night after night I sat in my recliner and held my baby while he coughed, choked and struggled to take a breath. I couldn’t help but cry. My three sons all have asthma. Billy was the first, diagnosed when he was only 9 months old. Bobby followed, diagnosed at 6 months old, and Nick was barely 4 months old when the doctor said he had asthma, too. One blustery night in January 1997, I had enough.

A Breaking Point. Billy had been to the emergency room numerous times, but on one particularly icy night I rushed him to the hospital. The whole way I was begging him to breathe. When we arrived at the ER, they immediately put him into a room and started to administer medication. I held his little brown teddy bear and prayed my child would live.

Much-Needed Advice. Billy did survive, but that night changed my life. One week later, I noticed a magazine in the doctor’s office with words on the cover that I’d always hoped to see: “How to manage your children’s asthma.”

I grabbed it as fast as I could and read the entire article. At the end there was a list of places to call for more information. I hurried home and called every number on the list and asked for as much information as I could.

Miraculously, I stumbled upon two numbers that would guide my life in a whole new direction. One was for Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), and one was for a local support group for parents of children with asthma. Through the group I met other people who were going through exactly what I was, and some of them shared tried and true ways to make our lives better. Eventually, I agreed to help plan the meetings. Then I got involved with the Omaha Asthma Alliance (OAA) in Nebraska, as chairperson for patient and public education, developing patient packets for parents with newly diagnosed children.

The AANMA Connection. During this time, I received a call from Nancy Sander, founder of Allergy & Asthma Network. Nancy asked me to become an Outreach Service Coordinator (OSC).

The OSC program started in 1993 and includes parents, patients, asthma educators and health care professionals who participate in allergy and asthma coalitions, organize community Asthma Awareness Days, work to create or change laws supporting the rights of people with allergy and asthma, and share The Network’s resources at schools, hospitals, clinics and health fairs. OSC volunteers have worked with families in communities where asthma is prevalent.

I took off to Washington, D.C., to meet everyone at The Network. I’ve been to Washington nine more times, met members of Congress, witnessed the passage of a new federal law – and helped change lives.

In 2005, I joined forces with Andrea Holka, another mom whose children had asthma, and together we wrote a bill for our state senate in Nebraska that would give children the right to carry and self-administer their asthma medication and auto-injectable epinephrine at school.

WOW! This new law represented a big difference from the days I would put Billy’s inhaler in his pocket and send him to school saying, “Don’t let anyone see this, but use it when you need to.” I knew I was breaking school rules, but I just wanted to make sure that Billy survived another day at school.

A Life-Changing Experience. I have taken my kids to the ER more than 100 times, and in the process I have learned to be proactive instead of reactive. I have learned to stay strong and know that I can make a difference.

Become an OSC!

Volunteers like Kathy Poehling and Andrea Holka identify problems and find solutions. That’s also the goal of The Network’s Outreach Service Coordinator program. Together we can breathe better together. To become an OSC, email info@allergyasthmanetwork.org