By Mick Dumke
Child asthma is manageable-as long as the children who have it, and their parents, sit down with doctors to learn everything they can about the disease, map out treatment plans and carefully monitor how they're doing.
It's worked that way so far for Myles Gibbs and his parents, Richard and Keesha.
Myles, 5, is a small-built, high-energy boy with thick curly hair and precocious verbal skills: He recently described his new cocker spaniel as having ears that are "soft and sort of lumpy, and when she drinks, her ears come down like this"-which he illustrated by holding his hands, loose at the wrist, up next to his ears.
But early on, his parents, then living in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, noticed he had respiratory problems that seemed to follow a pattern. First the weather would turn cold, and then he would have dry skin and rashes. Soon after, breathing and coughing troubles would set in. During his first year, he fought a nasty respiratory virus. The year after that, he was admitted to the hospital for a severe cough and breathing trouble. The next winter, at age 3, he had a diagnosed asthma attack.
Managing, preventing "It came on really fast," Keesha Gibbs says. "Kids are like that-they'll be really healthy one second, and the next they'll have a full-on asthma attack. ... He started coughing and had trouble breathing. He lay down, and he never lay down if he wasn't feeling well. I started listening to him and heard a little wheezing. It was pretty scary, but I wasn't panicking."
At the hospital, doctors diagnosed it as asthma and prescribed a steroid medication to open up his airways. He was safe and home within 24 hours.
Though asthma often runs in families, neither of the Gibbses knew of any relatives who had it. So they started researching. Keesha Gibbs, who was pursuing a degree in nursing at the time, read up on the disease, and a fellow parent at Myles' daycare center suggested the family visit the Mobile C.A.R.E. Foundation's Asthma Van, an asthma clinic on wheels.
Myles turned out to be as good a study as anyone. "He has learned over the years what to look for, like he'll say, ‘Mommy, my chest is tight,' " says Gibbs. "He'll say, ‘Mommy, I smell perfume. I feel good, but that's an asthma trigger.' "
After visits to the doctor's office and the Asthma Van, Myles was prescribed a set of medications that have kept him stable and healthy. During the late fall and winter months, he takes an inhaled steroid, and before he goes outside to "run and play and jump," he takes puffs of another controller medication.
Gibbs takes a few extra steps to keep potential triggers out of the family's new home in north suburban Libertyville. She runs an air filter and sweeps the floors with a vacuum equipped with special filters. When she and her husband recently decided to get a dog, they researched which breeds produce the least amount of dander. They settled on the cocker spaniel. Myles named her Lady Angel Spirit.
Moving on Last year, Myles had a minor attack. "But I knew how to handle it," Gibbs says. She had Myles use a nebulizer, which administers medication in a sprayed mist. His breathing returned to normal. Still, as a precaution, she borrowed a portable nebulizer from the Asthma Van before the family went on a camping trip this summer.
Asthma doesn't get in Myles' way too much. He plays soccer and swims competitively. He's learning to speak Spanish. Gibbs says caring for his asthma is now "90 percent observation."
In mid-July, she drove Myles from Libertyville to Chicago's West Side to visit the Asthma Van. She says it's worth the hourlong drive because she hasn't found any comparable care in the suburbs.
Myles runs into the van and greets its director, Dr. Karen Malamut, with a hug. She gives him a Spiderman coloring book, which he takes to a table and goes at intensely while he waits for his checkup. A few minutes later, he shows Malamut one of the pictures he's colored and mentions that he appeared in an African opera at Ravinia in north suburban Highland Park. "I was a prince," Myles says.
"Were you a frog turned into a prince by a kiss?" Malamut asks him.
He wrinkles his face in disgust. "I didn't kiss anyone," he says.
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