Asthma is a chronic disease that affects nearly 25 million Americans, including almost 7 million children, said the director of a St. Louis-based organization that aids asthma patients.
Some areas of the country, including southern Illinois, are worse for asthmatics because of the high pollen count during the spring, said Joy Krieger, executive director of the St. Louis chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
To raise money to combat the growing problem, Krieger helped Carterville resident Erika Lange plan Saturday’s Amber’s Asthma Awareness Run at John A. Logan College.
Lange, who coaches volleyball at Carterville High School, said she organized the first-time event to honor her friend and fellow volleyball player, Amber Bice, a Carbondale resident who died unexpectedly May 24, 2010, as the result of a severe asthma attack.
Lange said her plan to raise funds for children affected by the disorder took shape with the help of Krieger and Amber’s husband Matt Bice, among others.
Krieger said her organization, which educates the public about asthma and helps cover the cost of medicines for children without insurance, helped advertise and handed out informational materials at the event.
Asthma is a potentially fatal disease characterized by inflammation and obstruction of the airways, she said.
The attacks of wheezing and breathlessness associated with the disease are often triggered by allergens such as pollens, animal hair, dust mites and certain foods, she said.
Krieger said her organization emphasizes that asthma, which has a genetic component, needs to be managed by trained professionals even when a patient shows no symptoms.
She said she cautions clients not to rely too heavily on albuterol inhalers, which are an inhaled “rescue” medications that work quickly to open up swollen air passageways, to manage symptoms.
People who overuse albuterol inhalers can build a tolerance to the medication, she said.
Krieger said she tells her clients to follow their doctors’ instructions and to take other prescribed medicines even if they haven’t had an asthma attack for a while.
“It’s a myth to think you outgrow asthma,” she said. “There’s always a low level of disease present.”
Matt Bice, Amber Bice’s husband, said springtime pollens may have triggered the asthma attack that led to his wife’s death.
Bice, who helped Lange organize the event, said asthma is an underestimated disease.
His wife was diagnosed with asthma when she was a child and lived in Midland, Texas, he said, and had always carefully followed her doctor’s advice and took prescribed medications.
Bice said Amber never let her asthma prevent her from playing sports, especially volleyball. She played for the University of Texas of the Permian Basin volleyball team while both were students there.
They were married in July 2009 and relocated shortly afterwards to Carbondale, where he began his doctoral studies in public health education at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Bice said.
He said Amber had several bad asthma attacks in spring 2010 and returned temporarily to Midland, Texas, to see her doctor, who started her on a new medication.
Bice said his wife was diligent about seeking medical help for her asthma when she needed it.
“She followed the medical protocol to a ‘T’,” he said.
But Amber’s asthma attack in May 2010 was exceptionally severe, and despite the quick response from emergency personnel, they were unable to revive her when she lapsed into a coma, Bice said.
Amber, who was 25 at the time of her death, had just been hired as a volleyball coach at Carterville High School.
Bice said more public awareness about the potentially fatal disease is needed, one of the reasons he helped organize the Amber’s Asthma Awareness Run.