Advancing Children's Health

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Empowering siblings to control asthma for an active and healthy life

Published by , on May 9, 2017

Zorater Miles is very familiar with our You Can Control Asthma Now (UCAN) program. She’s the caregiver for her two grandchildren, 9-year-old Iyanna and 3-year-old Christian, both of whom are learning to manage their chronic asthma with the help of the UCAN team.

Family receives asthma education

Zorater Miles with grandchildren Christian, center, and Iyanna, right, speaks with Kathleen Bowden, MSW, social worker for the UCAN community asthma program.

Award-winning

The UCAN program was launched in 2015 through grant funding from Children’s Hospital Foundation and provides family-focused care to the high number of children suffering from asthma in the urban Richmond and surrounding community. Just this month, the program received national recognition with the 2017 National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During Asthma Awareness Month each May, EPA honors local asthma management programs for their exemplary role in improving the lives of people with asthma, particularly those in underserved communities with fewer resources.

UCAN offers medical care, education and social supports to help children and families control asthma.  Families are taught about their child’s asthma medication and how to use it effectively to prevent and treat an asthma attack. They learn about environmental factors that can trigger their child’s asthma and how to reduce the exposure to those triggers. The UCAN team also connects families with resources for transportation, housing, employment, hunger or mental health.

Mike Flynn, acting deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presents the UCAN team with the award.

UCAN’s asthma social worker, Kathleen Bowden, explained, “Sometimes other life events and situations can make it difficult for families to obtain the health care their children need. In addition to offering medical care, we help connect families with community organizations that support asthma control through home visits, home evaluations and even advocacy to address substandard housing issues.”

Life-changing

“When kids come to us, they’re often missing school, unable to play with friends…Asthma is keeping them from being kids,” said Michael Schechter, MD, chief of pulmonary medicine and director of the UCAN community asthma program. “To treat asthma properly takes a team effort. The physician makes the diagnosis and prescribes treatment, the nurse makes sure the family understands the disease and the social worker helps to overcome barriers to getting children the care they need. Home visitors help point out environmental triggers and how to avoid them. We all depend on the child and the family to learn how to best manage their asthma, use the skills they learn and call for more help when they need it.”

Missing school used to be a weekly occurrence for Iyanna. She has only missed three days this academic year, an achievement her grandma attributes to the care she has been receiving.

“It has changed our daily experience. They knew what the children needed,” Ms. Miles said. “UCAN treats my kids, but they’re also teaching me how to help manage the condition.”

Beyond the clinic

Ms. Miles keeps the mattresses covered with special covers provided by the program and makes every effort to eliminate dust and mold in the home. On the recommendation of the UCAN team, the Healthy Homes program with the Richmond Health Department visited the family’s home and provided an air filter and carbon monoxide detector. They also made suggestions for controlling environmental factors, such as getting rid of the stuffed animals in Iyanna’s bedroom which can harbor dust mites, a common asthma trigger.

“Her beloved stuffed animals had to go. I replaced them with two cloth animals and some special pillows. I also changed her curtains and bedspread. I fixed her room up, so hopefully she’ll still be happy without her stuffed animals.”

Daily medication has been the most significant factor in helping to manage both Iyanna’s and Christian’s asthma. The children don’t have to use their albuterol, or fast-acting “rescue” medication, nearly as often and they’re able to get outside and run, jump and play with their friends.

“I love to hear patients tell me how they’re able to run and play again. They love the freedom and parents are amazed at the difference they see in their children,” said Ginger Mary, CPNP in the UCAN program. “That’s what the time, care and education are for – an active and enjoyable life for these kids.”

Always here to help

Grandma keeps a UCAN magnet on the fridge with the (804) 628-UCAN (8226) phone number. A nurse and social worker, both asthma experts, are available to answer questions.

“If there is an issue, I can stay calm and call that number. They can tell me what to do and whether or not we need to go to the emergency room,” Ms. Miles said.

These days Miles and her grandkids make fewer visits to the ER as a result of the program.

“Whatever I tell them I need, they find a way to help me,” added Ms. Miles. “I really see a big change in my grandchildren. It’s such a relief when you don’t see your babies suffering.”
Learn more about how You Can Control Asthma Now!

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