April 18, 1997

New VCH program to help area kids breathe a bit easier

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Dr. Dennis Stokes

New VCH program to help area kids breathe a bit easier

Asthma can be frightening to a child and confusing to peers and teachers who don't understand the disease.

Pediatricians and nurses can usually quell those fears by explaining the condition's proper care and management to a child and his or her parents.

But in areas of the Nashville community where medical care is fragmented, a new program sponsored by Vanderbilt Children's Hospital and the American Lung Association (ALA) is offering school children valuable information on properly managing asthma and recognizing warning signs.

"Kids spend a lot of time in school, so targeting kids when they are in school is a good idea," said Dr. Dennis C. Stokes, associate professor of Pediatrics. "This program isn't meant to take the place of their standard medical care, but to help them improve their ability to take care of their asthma."

The Open Airways program is aimed at children 8 to 11 years of age. It is scheduled to begin soon in 10 inner-city schools in Nashville. Several of these schools are in areas where many frequent Vanderbilt visitors with asthma are found, Stokes said.

"This group is reasonably manageable," Stokes said. "They are good listeners and an easy group to teach self-help skills about asthma."

The program teaches the children how to prevent their episodes of asthma, how to recognize when they're having an asthma attack, and how to recognize such early warning signs as increased cough and wheezing on a daily basis."

"We hope that students will learn how to discuss problems they are having with asthma with their parents, doctors and teachers, and to give them more confidence about taking care of their asthma."

Children can be taught how to use peak flow meters to measure their breathing ability and how to take their medicines, but most importantly, they learn what asthma is and how to keep it from interfering with their daily activities, including sports, Stokes said.

At Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, asthma is among the top three admitting diagnoses and it's the most common reason for coming to the pediatric emergency department at Vanderbilt.

To carry out the program, volunteers are taught during training sessions how to teach the materials to children. Volunteers have included nurses, physicians, pharmacists, respiratory therapists and Child Life instructors from Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, as well as the community.

"You don't have to be in the medical field to teach the material. It's sort of like teaching CPR. You can stick to the script and teach the materials just fine."

Instructors are given the curriculum and teach six 40-minute lessons with the children during the school day.

"The materials are very well organized and kid-oriented, but the main skill required is to be good with kids," Stokes said.

Also participating in initiating the program in Middle Tennessee are Deborah Rew-Whiteside, clinic coordinator for the Pediatric Asthma Center, Greta Fowinkle, coordinator of Clinical Pathways and Case Management and Judy Marciel, from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

Ultimately, the program may help reduce the amount of emergency room visits and hospital admissions of children with asthma, Stokes said.

In a related program for adults with asthma, VUMC and the ALA are teaming up to offer an informational program on asthma on Saturday, April 26 at the Marriott Hotel on Marriott Drive from 12:45 to 3:30 p.m. The event is a learning opportunity for people with asthma and their families.

There will also be an Asthma Fun Afternoon on Saturday, May 3 from 12:45 to 4 p.m. also at the Marriott. The free event offers mini-seminars for children 8 to 12 and their parents and teachers about everything from pets and asthma to classroom-related issues and asthma.

"There's still a lot of prejudice about asthma," Stokes said. " A lot of people don't understand asthma and believe that if you have asthma you can't participate. If a child has asthma we don't want them sitting in the corner. That's not the attitude we want the child or families to have," he said.

"There are professional and Olympic athletes with asthma and there's no reason with proper medication that children can't participate in most sports they want to."

For more information about becoming a volunteer for the Open Airways program, contact Stokes or Janice Nolen, director of programs for the American Lung Association of Tennessee, at 329-1151.