#aworldthatcanbreathe

Today I met Ron and Linda MacDonald, the parents of Lydia MacDonald who tragically died from an asthma attack in June this year. I remember reading about this in the newspapers as Lydia’s wee boy was left in her flat for a few days after she died. At the time of reading I thought ‘not another one’. Another one being another person who has died as a result of an asthma attack. I felt for her parents at the time as no parent should loose their children.

Rather than sit back and do nothing, Lydia’s parents have set off on a campaign to both raise the profile of asthma and how dangerous it can be but also to fundraise for vital research which is chronically under funded. I am totally in awe of their strength, as in a few shorts months they have achieved so much awareness and want to continue with this.

I am so glad to have met Lydia’s parents- I was a bit apprehensive as asthma is a subject very close to my heart and one I can get very upset about as feel it has taken so much away from me. I was not sure if I would be able to keep my emotions in check. Part of me thought I shouldn’t show my emotions as I am still here. I still have my family- parents, brothers, sister, grandparents, nephew and niece whereas Lydia’s parent don’t have her and her son doesn’t have a mum. It is heart breaking thinking that. To know that someone so full of life had it all taken away.

So many things that both parents said resonated with me a few of them are:

  • there are so many different types of asthma
  • no one really gets how bad asthma can be not even friends
  • despite having bad asthma wanting independance
  • unless you have suffered an asthma attack you have no way of knowing how terrifying it really is
  • its not just asthma
  • asthma kills far too many people

These are just a few things but these are the things which people need to read and take on board to stop more families going through what Lydia’s family have and are going through.

I briefly had a look at the page called Lydia MacDonald Tribute fund for Asthma Research UK on Facebook and already the plans and party in the future appears to be gaining momentum and there are a huge number of comments in support. I will endeavour to support or help in anyway I can to raise funds or awareness about asthma. Lydia’s parents mentioned about getting all the communities together to one huge event with everyone working together as it is all for the same cause.

A phrase I heard several times from Lydia’s mother was that she just wants to to help make it a world where you can breathe. I am not sure if this the tagline so to speak for what they are doing but I have used it as a hashtag in my twitter when tweeting and also on various other social media sites to raise the profile of what Lydia’s parents are doing for people with asthma. The hashtag is:

#aworldthatcanbreathe

Understanding how stress can really impact on you physically.

One of the triggers for my asthma is stress. I often feel that I just jump from one stressful situation to the next no matter how hard I try to avoid it. I previously thought i was really weak because stress could have such an effect on my physical health. There are still so many days where I won’t accept that stress could be what is contributing to my feeling rubbish and my asthma being so unstable. Slowly I am changing my way of thinking and actually seeing that the more I fight against the idea that stress is making my asthma bad the more stressed I am actually getting as I am trying to find some other cause. Stress is not the only trigger for my asthma but it is one of them.

One of the real benefits I have found from going back to my old consultant is that she knows me really well and she can tell if I am stressed etc and will tell me straight up what she thinks. Even if I try to convince her otherwise I must admit she is right. She sent me to see a psychologist which once again I tried convince her I was ok and didnt need to go but I am glad I went. It helps to get different tools to use in everyday life to minimise the physical effects stress can have.

Over the past while I have been really struggling with all aspects of life I guess in a way things just got on top of me. I think mainly because you do something to help someone and basically you get kicked for it leaving me thinking I made the worse decision in my life. I kept these thoughts to myself and it really did eat me up inside until a really small incident happened which was the straw that broke the camels back. I had a very long chat with my step brother and sister and law and did a lot of thinking and came to the conclusion I need to look out for myself and do what is best for me in doing this others may get hurt but I am getting hurt and not only mentally but it is having a bad effect on my asthma. It infuriates me when someone who is meant to be someone you trust and is family but can screw so many people just for their own gain. I need to do what is in my best interest so after a lot of thinking and writing various letters to work how best to say what I need to.

I have noticed a difference this week as I feel so much better and I think its because I don’t have this weight and regret on me anymore. I have been sleeping so much better, been able to play softball with my team  as well as going out for dinner after the match. I was also able to play golf after work a few times too. Being able to do this things have boosted me and I have been able to forget about my worries. I hope the situation sorts out and if it doesn’t I know I have done what I need to to alleviate my stress.

Now I am looking forward to more good health and enjoy the summer!

Friends lost and why change is needed so desperately

It is this time of year where we are so grateful for our families and friends. We can celebrate Christmas and see in the New Year surrounded by those we love and cherish. That being said it is also a time for many families to remember those who are not with them. Those who have been taken too soon or those who have passed away due to old age.

I come from a very big extended family and have so many surrounding me but I still do not forget those who are missing. My uncle who sadly died far too young in a tragic accident and other members of the family gone to.

It is not only family that I think about but those friends I have made over the years that have lost their battle. That battle with asthma which kills roughly 3 people every day. To me people don’t die from asthma, they are killed by asthma. Why do I think like this?? because no-one should suffer such a bad attack or have their asthma so poorly managed that their life is cut short and taken because of an asthma attack and often the consequences there of.

When I spoke in Oxford at the first scientific meeting of AUKCAR in the PPI session, I closed rather emotionally saying that the centre would succeed in my eyes if after its first 5 years the number of people I personally knew who had died of asthma remained at 6. I am 28 (soon to be 29) and know 6 people who have died as a result of an asthma attack or the consequences of a poorly managed asthma attack. These 6 people all had asthma as a cause of death on their death certificate. This should never have been the case. Those 6 should still be living their life. Enjoying their family and friends as I am able to do. This is why I fight and volunteer for the Asthma UK Centre of Applied Research and Asthma UK to make sure everyone understands that asthma is so often mismanaged and poorly understood resulting in far too many hospital admissions and deaths.

My first experience of someone dying from Asthma was 8 years ago and it sticks so vividly in my head the day I heard the news. When I was living in Winchester I was often a patient on Shawford Ward at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital. This was where I first met Jeanette and her family. Her family adopted me so too speak as my family were up in Scotland and not able to come and see me very often. Me and Jeanette spent about 3 weeks in the same bay in the ward and I got to know her very well. We became firm friends. She was much older than me. She had her own kids and grand children but we got on so well. She made that hospital stay so much easier. I was in hospital that admission for 13 weeks. Even once she was discharged her husband would drive her in to see me every week. Once I was discharged I would often go round to her house and watch DVD’s and have afternoon tea. Her husband was the most amazing baker. (He would bring his cakes into hospital for me!!). Jeanette’e health slowly declined as her asthma became harder to control and more infections caused lung damage. I moved back to Edinburgh but when down visiting friends I would always arrange to see Jeanette and her family. The last time I saw Jeanette I was so shocked. She was in hospital- on Shawford Ward and very poorly. Her breathing was so bad and they just could not get it under control. Due to such a long period of poorly controlled asthma her heart struggled and eventually her body could not cope and she salt died. They did so much for me and it was such a pleasure to be able to repay those visits with my own visits.

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(The photo above was taken during that long 13 week admission. My friends on the rugby team were about to leave university. When joining the rugby we had initiations to the team. The members of the team not leaving decided to do initiations to life for the leavers. So as part of it the nurses allowed them to come in and visit me on the ward in fancy dress to cheer me up!!!)

The day I found out Jeanette died I was up in Edinburgh. I didnt tell anybody at first. I dent know how to. I almost couldn’t believe that she had died and it was because of asthma. Part of me was scared because I have asthma, I have poorly controlled asthma. I was asking myself could this be me, could I die? I could not make sense of what had happened. I was meant to be caddying for my step mum in a golf competition. I couldn’t focus. I forgot my golf shoes and had to buy new ones. I dealt with it the only way I knew how. I just didnt talk. When I don’t talk my step mum talks more and asks questions about why I am not talking- knowing something is wrong. I ended up snapping at her over something so small and insignificant I can’t remember what it was but i just came out with “Jeanette died and I don’t want to talk about it”. I don’t think I ever actually have spoken about it or how I felt. This is probably the most I have ever opened up about my first experience of someone I know dying from asthma.

I draw comfort in knowing that Jeanette will have died with those around her who loved her but also in a hospital ward which to this day I can not praise highly enough. Shawford Ward in Royal Hampshire County Hospital is one of the best respiratory wards I have ever been in. The staff are so caring and highly skilled. Even when they are stressed and run off their feet they make time for you as a patient. I remember countless nights struggling to breath and nurses would sit with me to make sure I was ok. The care assistants would come and chat and help me learn how to do my sub cut infusions myself. When I was getting better and on that long road of recovery to discharge they would get me helping them out doing the menus and the teas as this was the time many patients had visitors but being at university my friends would come in the day but my family were so far away the nights were hard. I don’t think I have ever really thanked them in person for all the did for me. So knowing that Jeanette was being looked after by them brings comfort. Rest in peace Jeanette.

There are 5 others along with Jeanette. They did not impact on me quite as profoundly as Jeanette’s death did and I don’t know why. I think it is to do with all she did for me and what her family did for me. I grieved for the other 5 as you would for anyone. From my own experience of severe asthma and uncontrolled asthma I did not feel particularly shocked that I had 6 friends who have all died from asthma. I think because 4 of them had asthma much like my own. I have had that feeling of not knowing if I can take another breath, or have the energy to continue to fight to breath and wondering if I will survive. It was not until May this year that I really took notice that I should not have so many friends who have died of asthma wether it be very severe or mild. The publication of the National Review of Asthma Deaths shocked me. I was gobsmacked. I knew asthma effected a lot of people but seeing in writing just how many people had died and how many had died needlessly made me sit up and listen so to speak. I realised that my 6 friends who make up the NRAD statistics should not be part of those statistics but should be pursuing their careers or enjoying their grand children. They should not be a memory or that person missing from a family.

I hope that in some small way I can help to make a change. Make people stand up and notice asthma. Promote good asthma management. I know that by telling all those at the meeting in Oxford that I had six friends die from asthma hit home. They took notice and saw the real life emotion and impact it has. Researchers can read statistics and know percentages but hearing from someone with asthma who knows what it is like to fight for breath makes so much more impact and hopefully will drive researchers to find ways of understanding asthma better and ways to manage it more effectively.

In the meantime I will continue to do my bit. Raise awareness, support research, be part of PPI for AUKCAR and do anything I can to help make the change that is so desperately needed.

I leave you with this poem written to me by a friend when I was in ITU after an asthma attack.