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Ask the Experts: Mothers Share Their Best Advice for Caring with Children with Asthma
By Nancy Kennedy


Asthma is the most common chronic condition of childhood, affecting five million American children. It has a profound impact on their lives, as well as on their families. It takes constant vigilance and detailed medical care to manage it well, but when asthma is controlled, life improves dramatically for child and family. Two Pittsburgh mothers who know this journey well offer advice and wisdom to parents who are learning to deal with the condition.

Charlotte Heyward is the mother of Pittsburgh Steeler Cameron Heyward and the executive director of The Heyward House, the foundation he established in 2015. Cam is the oldest of Charlotte’s three sons; he was diagnosed with severe asthma in infancy and continues to manage his asthma today. Asthma has not prevented Cam from becoming a stellar professional athlete, but the road to that accomplishment was a rocky one for mother and son. “Cam had his first asthma attack at six months old,” Charlotte says. “I was a 22-year old first time mother, away from family for the first time; my husband Craig was in the NFL and was away a lot. I had to learn to use the nebulizer and give Cam chest physical therapy. He hated the nebulizer so I made a game of it. Cam was sick a lot and we were often in the ER. Nights are tough with asthma; that’s when symptoms are worse. I used to stay awake to listen to him breathing at night.”

Charlotte was determined to master the disease and learned all she could. “The more I knew, the fewer attacks he had. Cam’s worst attack happened at age 8 at a sleepover; there was a cat in the house and a parent who smoked. He was in the hospital for a week.”

Cam had to live with restrictions that were tough for a young boy who wanted to play like other kids. At recess, when the others went outside to play, he went to the library. He still played sports, but couldn’t run; in soccer he had to be the goalie. Charlotte says that she and Craig were always right there when he played. In those early days, Charlotte never imagined that her son would one day be a professional athlete. “I taught him everything I knew; I had to prepare him to manage on his own. He learned well, got himself into good condition and kept his lungs strong. I was scared when he went to college but he knew every detail of his care.”

His experiences with asthma have made Cam a man with deep empathy for people going through medical challenges, Charlotte says. “Cam is a gentle soul and an even better man than he is an athlete. He understands struggle and loss, after losing his Dad as a teenager, and tries to help wherever he can. I want to help parents whose kids have asthma because I know how hard it is see your child suffer and see the fear in their eyes when they can’t breathe. I want to give them hope because although asthma is a serious disease, there is hope.”

“Asthma is life altering,” says Courtney C., who has two children with asthma. “It remodels your life in more ways than one and when your child suffers with asthma your world revolves around it.
“Our son was four months old when he began having labored breathing for the first time. That night, the nebulizer became a resident of our home. The breathing difficulties happened again and again for months. At the time we speculated but couldn’t confirm his health challenges. In April 2018 we met Deborah Gentile, MD, the doctor who would ultimately save our son’s life and change the trajectory of our lives. Her optimal care, incredible knowledge and dedicated time made such an impact.
“Parents intuitions are real and when coupled with a doctor’s intent to genuinely listen, it makes all the difference.

“About a year after our son’s diagnosis, our daughter was also confirmed to have asthma. While hers is significantly milder, we are still vigilant in the precautions we take to prevent and treat asthma attacks. Keeping abreast on what triggers your child’s asthma can significantly reduce symptoms. For both children, we remain constant in what we do. For example, we have multiple air purifiers in our home, use the highest grade filter for the furnace, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, monitor air quality, as well as have a pet free home.

“We take great strides to ensure our children can live the best possible life with the main goal of limiting asthma symptoms, spreading awareness and equipping our children with knowledge of their conditions. Our hopes are for them to have the most normal childhood possible.

Both of our children will likely continue to walk with their personal battles of asthma throughout their lives. However, we feel Blessed and thankful to have access to all the resources we do to help manage their asthma efficiently and effectively.”
- Courtney, mother of two asthmatic children

Visit www.aafa.org (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) for information, resources, videos and support.

Top Tips from Parents of Children with Asthm

  • Ask the doctor for written, not verbal, instructions
  • Use technology – a cell phone is an essential tool with asthma
  • Learn to monitor the air quality reports every day
  • Teach your child to know their own triggers and early signs of symptoms
  • Ask your pediatrician for a referral to an asthma specialist


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