U.S. Congresswoman — and mom — Carol Shea-Porter takes on asthma
U.S. Representative Carol Shea-Porter went home to New Hampshire for Mother’s Day. It was 2007 and she was fresh off her first session in the House of Representatives. Her husband and children had not moved to Washington with her, staying in the family home while her son finished high school.
Carol and her family were visiting her Mom when the day was soon shattered by a sudden asthma attack for her son – his worst in years. He’d had asthma since he was a baby, but at age 17, his symptoms had been so well controlled that he had relaxed his vigilance. They realized they could not make it to the hospital in time and stopped at the fire department. Now, Carol and her husband watched anxiously as the emergency medical technicians worked to stabilize their son’s breathing.
They put him in the ambulance and Carol climbed aboard. Gradually, his breathing began to steady and relax; he opened his eyes and weakly said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”
“My husband and two children all have asthma,” explains Carol. “Through the years, we’ve experienced what a lot of other families know: endless time in doctors’ offices, waiting in line at pharmacies, going to the emergency room, filling up the nebulizer late at night, walking the floor and dealing with medication side effects that leave children bouncing off the walls. When my son was three years old I would sleep on the floor next to his bed when he was ill so I could hear his breathing. We didn’t always sleep, though. I remember one night he said to me, ‘I have too much energy, let’s walk to the mall.’”
Carol says she and her husband made it through the children’s early years by shear diligence. She went through the house room by room, allergy-proofing everything as much as she could. “We took the rugs and curtains out of their bedrooms and put in air filters,” she recalls, “and it really helped!” She also focused on protecting the children from colds and flu. “I used to just beg people to stay away when they had a cold. Because a cold for most people is a seven-day event, but a cold for my child with asthma would become a two-month odyssey.” One child would get sick, then her other two asthmatics would get sick as well.
One day, she discovered a lifeline: “I found Nancy Sander’s book, A Parent’s Guide to Asthma, and read it religiously. Then I joined Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics and absorbed every piece of information I could.”
“Eventually, as my son and daughter got older, their asthma symptoms got better — if for no other reason than that we learned how to stop them before they got out of hand. My son had sinus surgery, which helped him a lot. He’s been able to beat back several colds now without prednisone. So we are making progress.”
Carol and her son both realize now that they might have relaxed too much. “That Mother’s Day, we were reminded of the suddenness of this disease,” she says. “He hadn’t been ill; it just came on him. Now we realize the danger of becoming overconfident.”
Together for Asthma
With a family history like the Shea-Porters’, it’s no wonder that health care is one of Carol’s priorities, with asthma at the top. Now that the health care reform bill is law, she is forming the Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus, an informal, bipartisan group of Members dedicated to passing legislation and improving research for those living with asthma and severe allergies, and to educating other Members about asthma and severe allergies.
“The asthma caucus will be one of the most important things that I do,” says Carol. “I am very concerned about the impact asthma and allergies have on families and I’m excited about helping others understand that there are ways to help these families. There is actually great hope for people with asthma. We should be optimistic about our ability to tackle this.”
U.S. Representative Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives from the state of New Hampshire, represents the state’s 1st District. This year, she was also an Honorary Co-Chair of AANMA’s Asthma Awareness Day Capitol Hill, where we introduced the Great American Asthma Challenge.
Does your member of Congress support allergy and asthma issues? Go to www.house.gov today to find your Representative; then link straight to their contact page and ask them to be sure to join the Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus and sign up for the Great American Asthma Challenge.
First published in Allergy & Asthma Today, Summer 2010
Medical editors: Carol Jones, RN, AE-C, and Andrea Holka