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By David Unkle, Program Director, New Jersey Children’s Health Project
Having worked in Trenton, Newark, and Camden, New Jersey, three of the most medically underserved cities in the country, I have treated hundreds of children and adults living with asthma. Until last March, when I became the program director of CHF’s New Jersey Children’s Health Project (NJCHP), most of my assessment and treatment for asthma took place in my private practice in Trenton. Kids came to me with problems breathing or with severe allergies and I helped diagnose the problem and worked with their families to develop an asthma action plan. Working on the mobile clinic, I’ve been able to bring what I have learned and practiced in my office into the Newark community, where many children are suffering with asthma and do not have the proper skills and/or medication to control the disease.
One of the major benefits of working on the CHF mobile clinic when treating a patient with asthma is that our team is able to go directly to the patient and understand more about the environment in which he or she lives or attends school. This allows us to determine what in the child’s environment might be triggering asthma and then educate parents, teachers, and children about the triggers, where they are located, and how to avoid them. For example, when in a homeless shelter, we look to see where a child sleeps – as this spot is where the child spends a good portion of his/her day – and look to see if there is anything within this environment, like stuffed animals, cork boards, plants and/or feather pillows, that might be making the child’s asthma worse
When fighting asthma, projects like ours are extremely vital because in addition to treatment, we help bring an awareness of the severity of asthma—something many people, especially those living in poor and underserved communities, do not understand. We are able to help families develop an asthma action plan that includes asthma management and reduction of asthma triggers. When that happens, children are less likely to suffer from an attack, go the ER, and/or miss a day of school—all of which contribute to a better and healthier community.
The numbers don’t lie: over 7 million children under the age of 18 living with asthma. We need to ensure that parents, teachers, legislatures, and children are aware of the severity of this disease and are taught how to properly control their asthma.