--Dr. Natalie A. Nevins, /CEO,AD+WorldHealth Corp.
"This importantbookelegantly records for us the effect of asthma on thepatient and family. I highly recommend thisbookfor patients, parents, and professionals."
-- Chris Landon MD FAAP,FCCP, CMD, Director of Pediatrics Ventura CountyMedical Center; Clinical AssociateProfessor of Pediatrics, University of Southern California School ofMedicine; Department of PediatricPulmonology, Children's Hospital LosAngeles.
"Essential reading... Heartrending,thrilling, and richly informative, Sue Fries' journey to save her son fromasthma will inspire you to be more heroic in your own life."
"As a mother who has raised an asthmatic child, as well as someone whohas lost a loved one to respiratory distress, I know firsthand the sheer terrorof what most take for granted: God's gift of breath. In Learning to Breathe, Susan Friessinglehandedly confronts the battle against poor indoor air quality. In herquest to save her own son, she acquires a life-long mission: a better way tolive, a better way to breathe. Quite simply, Ms. Fries life story isinspirational."
-- Kim Gosselin, author, The ABCs of Asthma
"Learning to Breathe is a heartfelt and thought-provokingjourney of a family's quest for answers to a son's asthmaticcondition. The author's search and eventual discoveries provide us with acompass for navigating through the morass of medical jargon about thisnearly-epidemic condition."
--Dr. Case Adams, author of AsthmaSolved Naturally: The Surprising Underlying Causes and Hundreds of Natural Strategiesto Beat Asthma
From the Author
Then the LordGod formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils thebreath of life, and the man became a living creature.
- Genesis 2:7
When I was4-years old, I stopped breathing for the first time. It was an unusually chillyFebruary night in Southern California. I was curled up beneath my comforter,the room dark, the fear in my body darker still. Without thinking about it, oureyes blink, our hearts beat, and our lungs breathe 15 times a minute. But mybody wasn't breathing. I imagined being held under water, the safety of beingenveloped by the cool liquid, but the pressure on my chest - wishing to be bornagain, but not to die. It was a desperate and haunted collision of divinity andterror. All I could do was curl up, like an infant, try to clear some space inmy body, lift my hips with a pillow, like clinging to a lifeboat, and wait forthe breath to return.
I struggledwith breathing all of my life, suffering from asthma that got better and worseand then much worse for reasons no one in my family understood - sometimes itwas how the wind blew, other times it seemed cued to the lunar cycle, maybe itwas the garden or maybe it was the food I ate. I learned to be afraid of everything,most especially the things I could not see. Millions of Americans live this wayevery single day of their lives. Two-hundred-fifty-thousand of them will diethis year, unable to breathe - something most of us do without ever stopping tothink about it.
I don'tthink I really learned how to breathe until my own son suffered the same cruelfate, grasping for breath, clawing at his throat, trying to open a space he couldnot find, clutching his chest, sweating, shaking, terrified. The only terrorgreater than a child's fear, would be a parent's. Tyson was 2. His father was afirefighter/paramedic; ironically, he spent most of our family's life saving other people's children. But here wasour son, like so many people's sons, in the middle of the night, suffocatingbefore my very eyes. It was the same asthma that had tried to kill me. It hadreturned to claim my son. And that forced me to breathe.
That firstasthma attack was a warning shot. We were visiting friends with cats, and itbegan: the coughing and the wheezing. Tyson went from a perfectly normal, happy2-year old to a puffy, inflamed, red-faced, watery-eyed, gasping for breathlittle creature in a matter of minutes. His father had no idea what washappening. But I did. And it devastated me, the fear that came with thatepiphany: my son is having an asthma attack. How could he be having an asthma attack? I'd done everything rightduring the pregnancy: I ate well, I exercised, of course I didn't smoke ordrink, and then I breastfed Tyson. I did everything a good mother is supposedto do, but it happened anyway. My asthma had come to take away my boy.
Tysondidn't have another attack for several months, but by the time he was 4, thereal nightmare was beginning. The endless, sleepless nights, the terrifyingemergency room runs, the realization that every breath could be his last. Beingthe parent of a child with asthma is as horrible as being a child with asthma,I believe - and I've been both.
It is inour darkest moments that we find out who we really are. This was a newbeginning for me. And it looked like this: Tyson is 4, tangled in blankets, hispajama shirt nearly shredded open, his body chilled but soaked in sweat. He'scoughing so hard that he erupts in sputum. Vomit flies everywhere. He isscared. I can feel his fear in my bones. It mingles with my own. Though I am apetite woman, I find some reservoir of strength and scoop him under one arm,then dead-lift his infant sister under the other arm. Wrapped in Star Wars bed sheets and comforters, wemust look like some padded, three-headed alien. I grab a bucket from beneaththe kitchen sink to catch the vomit I know will come again, and we fall intothe car. I'm holding to the steering wheel with one hand, the barf bucket withthe other, struggling to keep a calm composure for my children as we hit theroad.
A lothappens in 30 minutes. Families on television sitcoms have misunderstandingsand completely resolve them in tidy little packages. Business deals are done.Lunches are devoured over friendly conversation. Or you can drive your child tothe hospital, barely breathing the both of you, monitored only by awet-diapered baby who hasn't a clue as to why the truck reeks of fear. I holdthis fear in my stomach, in my throat. I'm swallowing a lot. I'm not sure thatI'll be able to speak when I get to the hospital. But the voices in my head areloud: My son, is he going to die?
You willbreathe 14,000 times today. In those 30 minutes, I would've given my life athousands times to borrow one of those breaths for my child.
This storyis not only mine, nor Tyson's. This is the story of one in 10 Americanchildren, victims of asthma that can be lethal. As it turns out, the mostdangerous things in life are the ones you cannot see - what you breathe, whatyou inhale in the place you should feel safest: your home. According to WorldHealth Organization, most asthma - indeed, most illnesses in general - aredeeply aggravated by dust, dust mites, chemicals, bacteria, fungus, dander,waste, and mold. Most of these things are invisible. If you have spent yourlife learning to breathe and doing so by moving a mile a minute, as I did -running businesses, ballroom dancing, raising children, riding horses, makingends meet -- you don't stand a chance of seeing these things at all.
Until youhave to.
And oncethe seeing starts, it never stops. This is the story of how what you do not knowand cannot see can hurt or maybe kill you. More than that: it's the story ofhow to see the things you cannot see, and how to keep your own loved ones safe.If you're reading this now, it's probably because you need to breathe too, oryou love someone who does. This is a story of a hundred vacuum cleaners andacupuncture, of mold stains and pet adoptions, of plastic pillowcases andspooked horses, of Congressmen and activism, of science and faith, of amarriage that bends and sometimes breaks, of emergency rooms and small coffins,of a mother learning how to become a champion by simply discovering for thefirst time in her life how to breathe, and how to ensure her son has the sameGod-given privilege.
It is yourbirthright to breathe and to breathe freely. As a spokesperson for UnitedAgainst Indoor Air Pollution, an organization that is at the vanguard ofunderstanding and eradicating the most dangerous airborne toxins in theenvironments we assume to be safest - our homes, our schools, our offices - mymission is to vanquish this national health crisis, to breathe the truth sothat each and every one of us can do the same. You can vacuum your living roomso many times it's more neatly groomed than center field at Wrigley Field, andI did, but it didn't keep me from that endless haul to the emergency room whenTyson was 4. Or dozens of others exactly like it. There is so much you need toknow about things you do not know - things I did not know, but do now.
This is myjourney. I have a feeling it is yours too. Let's walk it together, and learn tobreathe.