Meet the Chicago Teen on a Mission to Destigmatize Asthma

The Whitney Young senior created Choose to Breathe, a moment that aims to destigmatize the condition among young people.

When Mia Fritsch-Anderson was growing up, much of her childhood involved frequent trips to the hospital to receive breathing treatments. Diagnosed with severe asthma at age one, Anderson says her early years were defined by her medical condition. As she grew older and maintained control of her asthma, she faced shaming from her peers every time she pulled out her inhaler.

“Studies show that less than 25 percent of teenagers would use their life-saving medication in front of their peers, even if their asthma attack were life threatening,” says Anderson, 18, a senior at Whitney Young High School. “That’s not OK. No one should ever feel ashamed for needing help breathing.”

This reality served as the catalyst to create a movement, Choose to Breathe, to educate young people about asthma and reduce the stigma of using inhalers. Choose to Breathe focuses on three aspects of asthma advocacy – creating asthma education that kids and teens will retain, increasing inhaler compliance and encouraging positive peer engagement. 

“I wanted to start something so that no child or teen ever had to feel like they couldn’t take their inhaler again,” says Anderson, who uses Instagram and TikTok to create engaging and educational videos. 

On those platforms, she talks about everything from using a spacer correctly to the best ways to work with local pharmacists. 

“The response has been huge, and I think a lot of that is because I share my personal journey,” says Anderson. “There’s no greater feeling than getting messages from kids and teens saying that they related to my post or reel, or that they felt understood.”

In addition to her advocacy work, Anderson also makes fun and colorful inhaler covers to help kids feel more comfortable taking their medicine. They are widely distributed at doctors’ offices in Chicago as well as through Mobile Care Chicago’s Asthma Van that supports low-income families.

Anderson, who was awarded Miss Illinois’ Outstanding Teen 2022, recently added another accolade to her already impressive resume. Last month, she was named a 2023 Prudential Emerging Visionary for her inspiring commitment to improving the lives of others. She says she will use her $5,000 prize to certify Choose to Breathe as a nonprofit so she can continue to grow the organization and chip away at the negative stigmas associated with asthma.

“I want people to know that kids with asthma aren’t weak,” says Anderson, who is a competitive Irish dancer. “I have been underestimated my entire life because I have asthma.”

In addition to educating her peers on asthma, Anderson says she wants kids with asthma to not feel like they have to hide when they need to take their inhaler. 

“I hope that the next time a child or teen looks at their inhaler, they won’t feel that shame I felt, and they will choose to breathe instead of risking their life,” says Anderson. “I have learned that it is better to be able to breathe and enjoy what you are doing than have an asthma attack.”

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