Athletes With Asthma: A Team Effort

When you have an athlete with asthma, you know it takes a team of people to help you fight and beat it. Obviously, you need a good team of medical professionals who will listen to your unique experience with asthma and advise you based on your personal triggers and symptoms. While asthma symptoms are shared by all sufferers, each patient experiences their own special recipe of triggers, symptoms, and treatments. Asthma medications can not simply be prescribed and left alone; they have to be tweaked, doses increased and decreased, new medications added at certain times of flare-up. Vitamins and supplements from that health section of the grocery store become a mainstay in different combinations. You may even find yourself in the Herb Shop buying all sorts of interesting items you heretofore had never known were real medicines to anyone but hippies. When you or your child has a chronic illness, you add anyone and anything that can contribute to your team.

Without the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists who do the lung function tests, the kind office staff who treats you gently when you’re sick, and the unseen researchers who have made our lives better, we would be up a creek. If you do not have this kind of team, you must find one. Immediately. Not all doctors’ offices are a positive experience; we’ve been through some bad and some good and I’m here to say that I don’t know what I would’ve done if I had not found a good one. It has been a real journey. If you need help finding one, let me know in the comments and I am happy to help you.

Of course, as with any of life’s struggles, a good team of family and friends to support your athlete and you is a must-have. Your athlete needs interaction with other athletes and peers who have asthma who know what it’s like to feel like you’re breathing through a straw. He or she needs an understanding family who has their back at all times. As a parent, our job is often to build them up when it gets difficult. Many people look at an asthmatic athlete as weak or an inferior athlete because they have to sit out from time to time. I remind my athlete that he is stronger and tougher than most people realize because he has to play football in the summer heat in Georgia like everyone else, while not breathing at full capacity. If he wanted to quit, I would support him. However, since he wants to play more than anything, it’s my job to support him and help him and lift him up.

The other team essential to your athlete’s success includes the coaches and team managers. Unfortunately, I learned this fact the hard way. Asthma is a squirrelly little devil; it is unpredictable, which can lead to passivity, which can lead to serious problems. Sometimes you have to wait and see and hope for the best. Sometimes things go well. Sometimes they don’t. I made the decision to wait and see how he did with middle school football. Of course, I filled out the paperwork and disclosed his asthma condition. I regretfully chose to downplay it and not talk to the coaches before the start of the season to help his chances of playing. Knowing his triggers were grass, summer heat and humidity, and poor air quality, my mama 6th sense told me to check on him one awful summer afternoon, and sure enough, he was sitting out and having the worst attack of his 13 years. His lips were drawn, he was shaking, he couldn’t speak well…it was terribly frightening. The 13 year old managers were calling me as I was running up to him. The coaches were unaware yet of what was happening. (Football players don’t like to complain to coaches.) I grabbed him, got his pads off, he somehow made it to the car, and we drove to the Urgent Care. He used his emergency inhaler over and over, but it wasn’t until he finally cooled down a bit in the car that he could catch a breath. His lips relaxed. He got a shot and some steroids at Urgent Care and the wonderful doctor, an ex-football player himself, gave him a man-to-man talk about talking to his coaches and keeping them informed when he STARTED to have problems and to sit down THEN. My athlete listened. We were both scared straight and I knew then I had made a terrible mistake by not talking with the coaches ahead of time.

After that day, my husband and I met with the coaches and found the tough-as-nails head coach to be an understanding, kind man and parent. He made us feel that he cared about my athlete’s well-being as he would his own son’s. We made an action plan for cooling down my athlete inside when needed, the coach kept an inhaler in a toolbox on the bench at all times, and he had my phone number in hand if my athlete had an attack.

We all felt so much better afterwards. I became motivated to find a higher level of care and found it at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Asthma Center. Our asthma doctor, who actually is a nurse practitioner, just so happens to be a football mom and totally got us. She never said, “he shouldn’t be playing football,” which was my greatest fear. She said, “let’s get you fixed up so you can get out there and play.” Love it! There was even an  asthma magazine sitting on our table that had a very successful NFL player/asthma sufferer on the cover. It was definitely the right place for my athlete! After visiting the new doctor and tweaking our medication, he was able to play better and even start, with minimal asthma issues.

I beat myself up all the time over that decision to wait and see how football went. Parenting is hard. My husband and I joke and blame the hospital for never sending our instruction manual. Asthma is hard. Most days, you would never know my athlete even has asthma. Most days, he feels fine and even forgets to take his daily meds. He did fine at practice until that day. But then, spring arrives, or fall arrives, or it’s a code orange day, or you get a cold, and your asthma jerks you out of that lala land you’ve been living in and reminds you with a hard slap in the face, saying “I’m still here…[tongue sticking out]…and I’m never going away.”

I’m just thankful that my internal mama bear made me go out to that field that day and that he was okay in the end. I’m thankful that he has the courage and the tenacity to do what he loves despite the obstacles. I’m thankful that he and we have a team of people around us who take care of us and support us and love us. Dealing with asthma truly is a team effort, and without our team we would be sitting on the sidelines, or worse.

I would love to hear about your athlete’s experiences, and especially your decision-making (the good, the bad, and the ugly) as a parent of an athlete with asthma. I welcome all comments but if you are here to judge and not here to lift people up, then go somewhere else.

2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate?

Our team! Our team!

Gooooooooo, team!