‘Even doctors don’t know when my daughter’s having an asthma attack’

Ever since she came into the world with the cord wrapped firmly around her tiny neck, Beatrice has struggled for breath.

At seven weeks of age, Bea had bronchitis, then lots of chest infections and viruses – it seemed as though we were constantly at the doctors. When she was three, Bea suffered a bad chest infection, she had a high temperature and cough, she was very lethargic, and found it hard to breathe. We took her to the doctors, who immediately called an ambulance. At hospital the doctor told us, “she’s suffering an acute asthma attack – you’re lucky you’re here.”

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Bea was diagnosed as a severe asthmatic, my husband and I have it too, but ours is very mild. When we got the diagnosis, it was a bit overwhelming.

As a parent, I’ve had to educate myself because Bea isn’t your typical asthmatic. I spent a long time researching, watching patterns, looking for signs and getting to know her triggers, because it’s life threatening. Sometimes she has a silent wheeze – it got so bad, I bought a stethoscope, and trained myself to listen to her lungs if she was unwell.

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Bea has experienced complications since she was a baby. Image: Supplied

Bea has experienced complications since she was a baby. Image: Supplied

I’ve taken her to doctors who have said, “she’s fine”

Then I ask them to listen to her lungs, and they say, “right, oh my goodness, she’s barely getting any air in, she has to go straight into hospital.” That’s happened more than once.

If she doesn’t get the medication she needs, and is sent home from hospital or the doctors without being properly monitored, she could die, that’s the reality of it.

I’ve lost count of the number of times Bea has been taken to hospital. In Grade 2 Bea was in hospital constantly, she was on steroids to control it, and had over 50 days off school that year.

Bea in hospital. Image: Supplied

Bea in hospital. Image: Supplied

She hated being in hospital when she was younger, it made her feel anxious and frustrated… she couldn’t control her health or her body so she tried to be perfect in her school work. Every single letter had to be done just right, or she’d rub it out time and time again, and she couldn’t get through her work.

We have to be so careful around her triggers

Windy weather, smoke, changes in the atmosphere – even lightning or thunder can trigger her asthma. At school if it’s a windy day or there’s a storm coming, she has to stay indoors, and she has six puffs of Ventolin every few hours, so she doesn’t have a severe attack.

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She has to be so careful. Image: Supplied

She has to be so careful. Image: Supplied

Bea also has a mild form of cerebral palsy, that impacts on her breathing awareness. When she’s having an attack, she doesn’t realise until it’s almost too late, so we always have to be vigilant. There’s been a couple of times where she’s been about to slip into unconsciousness, but we’ve managed to get oxygen into her in time.

Bea is a beautiful child, she loves art, she’s creative, quiet and shy. Because of the challenges she’s faced, she shows a lot of empathy towards others, if someone is struggling, she’ll be the first one to go up and give them a hug.

Bea has such a kind soul. Image: Supplied

Bea has such a kind soul. Image: Supplied

It’s been hard for her, because she doesn’t always show the typical signs that an attack is imminent. She can’t have sleepovers; other parents wouldn’t know her signs. For most kids, with the wheezing, you notice sucking in of the spaces between the ribs with each breath, Bea doesn’t have that until she’s basically about to drop. Even things that are good for kids with asthma, like swimming, don’t work well for Bea, because the chlorine triggers an asthma attack.

Tina Fey (mom to daughter Alice): “I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible - oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.”

The doctors have told us she’ll never outgrow it

She has a preventer and every morning, she takes two puffs of Ventolin, before her preventer, to help her absorb the medicine more effectively. She does that morning and night.

Bea and her family are constantly visualant. Image: Supplied

Bea and her family are constantly vigilant. Image: Supplied

It’s hard for all of us, we’re constantly on high alert, when she’s unwell. It’s very physically and emotionally draining, and then there’s that imbalance of attention – her sisters miss out. The three girls are close. Hannah 12, and Heidi, 8, know what to look for, and have intervened at school when they see Bea in the playground and taken her to sick bay.

We don’t know what the future holds. Bea is stable and we know what medication works best for her. It’s been two years since her last hospital visit, which is encouraging, but she’s still has to take steroids from time to time. She’s becoming more self-aware and knows what triggers to avoid.

For more information about asthma check www.asthmaaustralia.org.au