DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Javon Coney, left, Matthew Guhl (showing the inhaler that he carries) and Farrel Ekau are among students at Barbers Point Elementary School with asthma. The American Lung Association is starting a new program, called Open Airways + Parents, to educate parents and guardians about eliminating the triggers at home that cause asthma in children.
Asthma program expands
When fourth-grader Farrel Ekau Jr. would start breathing hard during football or baseball games, he would be afraid that he was having an asthma attack and panic.
But since he signed up for the Open Airways program offered at Barbers Point Elementary School, Farrel calms himself down through "belly breathing," which gets air deep into his lungs, he said.
The program "helps me to think I can do something about (my asthma)" besides using a medication inhaler or calling for help, Farrel said.
The American Lung Association is expanding its 12-year-old program, which helped about 700 students at dozens of elementary schools throughout the state last year alone. "Open Airways + Parents" will include the education of parents in preventing the triggers of asthma at home, according to Jean Evans, association executive director. It will be tested in dozens of elementary schools on Oahu beginning this fall, she added.
Parents and guardians of asthmatic children of all races will be invited to "talk story" about eliminating the triggers - the worst of which is secondhand smoke - such as dust mites, mold, cockroaches and pet dander, she said. These allergens and environmental irritants can make the lungs swollen and inflamed, making it harder to breathe.
The program was funded by a $24,999 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. OHA awarded the grant because statistics show Hawaiians are particularly susceptible to the lung disease and that it is passed down through families, Evans said.
Dorene Kamealoha, who has been Barbers Point's health aide for 16 years, said only about a dozen out of 60 students who have asthma usually sign up for Open Airways every year, but its results have "just been awesome." Since participation began several years ago, students learned "how to identify when their coughing is not a cold and when they need their (asthma) medication," Kamealoha said. "They've learned so much. ... It's definitely a good idea to open it (the program) up to parents."
Fourth-grader Javon Coney is aware that smoke and dust make his asthma act up, although no one smokes at home.
"When I run around, it feels like there's dirt in my throat. When I laugh really hard, I start to cough a lot. Then I belly-breathe. And I put my fingers in my ears and breathe. This tells you if you are wheezing; then I know to take my medicine," Coney said.
Parents like Stacey Ekau, Farrel's mother, have taken steps at home to eliminate triggers.
"We try to make sure that there's no pets or smoking in the house," she said, and she started Farrel on daily nasal rinses to cut down on his allergies. Farrel said he also asked his parents to stop smoking, even though they do it outside their house.
Knowing more about asthma has reduced Ekau's own anxiety as well as Farrel's. For instance, she said Farrel had to learn the difference between breathing hard and an asthma attack, and that it is natural to breathe hard when you have been running.
Rose Guhl, whose fourth-grader Matthew has been in the program for two years, said he used to feel "different from other kids."
"He would say, 'I can't do that because I have asthma,'" Guhl said. "But he's realized that kids who have asthma can do many things normal kids can do. He felt limited before, that he couldn't play sports, but now he plays soccer and goes swimming."