Thursday, April 7, 2011


My nephew has asthma. That scares me. He suffers massive attacks and has been hospitalized several times for his asthma. He’s an otherwise healthy, active boy who despite the asthma, recently just earned his Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. Still, I worry about his breathing problems. David Bear on the other hand, does not have asthma. He has RESPIRATORY DISTRESS SYNDROME, or RDS. Most people have never heard of RDS so we usually just say, “Yeah, he has asthma.”
Respiratory distress syndrome is one of the most common lung disorders in premature infants and causes increasing difficulty in breathing. Respiratory distress syndrome affects 10% of all premature infants and only rarely affects those born at full-term. The disease is caused by a lack of lung surfactant, a chemical that normally appears in mature lungs. Surfactant keeps the air sacs from collapsing and allows them to inflate with air more easily. In respiratory distress syndrome, the air sacs collapse and prevent the child from breathing properly. Symptoms usually appear shortly after birth and become progressively more severe.

(From U.S. National Institute of Health)

The lungs are the very last organ to develop in vitro. Lung tissues mature just prior to birth, usually at week 34. David Bear was born during week 25. David Bear has never had an asthma attack, but he is always in respiratory distress. I didn’t smoke while I was pregnant, nor did I allow anyone to smoke in my presence, but my son was born too early for his lungs to develop which really ticks me off. I know so many smokers who have given birth to healthy children that I think it’s just unfair that my child has respiratory distress syndrome.

Breathe. I tell myself that. Life isn’t fair. Life is life. We need oxygen to live. Breathing supplies over 99% of your entire oxygen supply. We choose to teach our son to live rather than be mad at life. David Bear spent the first three months of his life on oxygen, but when he came home, he was breathing room air. After his second hospitalization in less than a month, they sent him home on oxygen. We had huge oxygen tanks in his bedroom, smaller oxygen tanks around the house and portable oxygen tanks for short trips. Back then all of our trips were short – 2 hours or less, the amount of oxygen in a portable tank. (Reminds me of the Disney store I will have to post later today.) I tried to see a lifetime of him dragging around oxygen tanks, but my vision doesn’t work like that.

Breathe. Track, swimming, karate, yoga – those are the sports and activities I’ve always participated in, but David Sr. is the real jock -- college football, karate, champion pole vaulter and hurdler, deep sea diving, outdoorsman. We couldn’t accept that our son would not be able to do any of the things we enjoyed. We can accept that he won’t do them all, but any? That was too much to bear, so we taught him how to breathe.

Yes, we taught him how to breathe. People don’t realize that most children can be taught anything. Breathing is natural for almost everyone because the options are pretty limited, breathe or die. Oxygen tanks are great and they clearly saved our son’s life, but we did not believe that he was meant to be oxygen dependent. We instead subscribed to the belief that he did not know how to breathe. He’s brain damaged, remember. To us, that signifies that the path from his brain to his lungs was not yet fully formed so we implemented a very simple breathing program.

Verbal cues
- Telling him to breathe several times per day.
- Breathe in. Breathe out.
- Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out.

Physical cues
- Holding him close while I took deep breaths so he could get my breathing rhythm
- Placing a hand on his stomach and telling him to take deep breaths until he could move my hand.
- Placing a hand on his lower back and telling him to take deep breaths until I could feel his breath on my hand.

Environmental changes:
- Eliminating all carpeting from the home.
- Switching to low toxic products
- Properly ventilating our home
- Giving him plenty of outside time

Breathe in. David was off oxygen shortly after his 2nd birthday. There were times the first few years when I felt he needed it, especially during illnesses, but that’s a-whole-nother column on caring for sick babies when they become ill. There were times when I wish I’d kept a bottle or two around just for me, but mostly we don’t miss the oxygen. Breathe out.

Breathe in. I’m so grateful that he doesn’t remember and that he doesn’t have physical scars from the tape. Our mental scars are still fresh so I tell him to breathe. He swims and does karate. He plays with other boys on occasion; one day WE will be strong enough to allow him to play every day. We are happy. Breathe out.

When was the last time you stopped your child from what they were doing to make them breathe? Children who can’t breathe don’t have much of a chance for life. Breathe.


  1. another must read...this goes beyond just parenting.

  2. whoppee cushion boy, right? rofl. I block out the rough start and focus on the strong presence. And the ubiquitous chat box "Hi, Aunt Jea." LOL. And you ask me why I just don't block the boy!

  3. well my little asthma boy with the black belt has need for the ER or nebulizer once a year maybe. i can't imagine needing to tell him to breathe. some times i want to smother him... lol.

    but this is a very good article. informative. new found respect. but i will still choke him out if he asks me about whoopie coushins or tells me to give nick a fb account one more time!