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Breathmobile? Reaches out to Children with Asthma

Five-year-old Diego Rivera was just a baby when his mother noticed he had trouble breathing. Periodically, he would develop a cold and fever, which led to a rattling cough. To his mother Marie, it didn?t sound like a cough typically associated with a cold; this one sounded hoarse and raspy.

During one of these ?colds,? Diego?s parents brought him to the doctor to have his chest X-rayed. According to Marie, they were surprised when doctors diagnosed Diego with asthma.

Asthma, frequently under-diagnosed and untreated, is the most common chronic childhood disease, causing significant health care utilization (emergency department visits and hospitalization), and school absenteeism.

Asthma affects the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs, causing them to become inflamed. When these airways are constricted, less air flows through to the lung tissue, causing an asthma attack. In Diego?s case, his symptoms would become worse when the seasons changed, particularly in fall and winter.

In a severe asthma attack, the airways can close so much that not enough oxygen gets to vital organs. This condition is a medical emergency, which if left untreated can result in death. Asthma cannot be cured, but most people with asthma can control it to the extent that they have few and infrequent symptoms and can live active lives.

After several years of treating Diego for asthma, Marie was referred to the CHOC Breathmobile? by her sister, who worked in the CHOC clinic in Garden Grove.

Described as an ?asthma clinic on wheels,? the Breathmobile is a fully equipped, mobile asthma treatment unit staffed with a physician, bilingual nurse, and driver. It provides access to comprehensive, specialized asthma care to children in Orange County.

A typical evaluation includes a comprehensive asthma/allergy history, physical examination, allergy skin tests and breathing tests, when possible. After a diagnosis is formulated, a treatment plan and extensive education are provided. The CHOC Breathmobile visits schools on a rotating schedule every four-tosix weeks.

?The Breathmobile staff was great; they not only evaluated Diego, but they educated us. For example, we learned that Diego should be taking asthma medicine every day to prevent attacks and keep his airways clear. They also gave him new medicine that he can more easily take through an inhaler,? Marie says.

?I?ve already noticed a change in Diego. He?s breathing better, and he can run without starting to cough. Before, we used to give him his medicine during an attack, and he?d be good for about two-to-three weeks. Then, he?d start coughing again. Now, by taking his medicine every day, there?s no more coughing.?

The Breathmobile has garnered a lot of attention for its preventative approach to treating asthma. It was toured this spring by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in his keynote address at the International Asthma Conference in Anaheim discussed how his comprehensive health care reform plan will help asthma patients.

According to Dr. Stanley Galant, founder of the Orange County School Asthma Program, now known as the CHOC Breathmobile Program, and medical director of the CHOC Breathmobile, ?the Breathmobile Program has made a significant impact on the health status of the under-served asthmatic child in Orange County. Due to the generosity of grantors such as the Air Quality Management District and donors such as the Queen of Hearts Guild, we are now able to reach even more children in the county with asthma who have barriers to accessing proper treatment.?

A second Breathmobile unit will expand coverage to school and community sites in South Orange County. Further expansion is planned for Westminster, Fountain Valley, Stanton, Tustin, Huntington Beach and La Habra.

Did you know?
After just one year, the CHOC Breathmobile had the following outcomes:

  • Emergency Department visits decreased from 22.1% to 3.9%
  • Hospitalization decreased from 7.6% to .3%
  • School absenteeism decreased from 23.9% to .7%


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Children's Hospital of Orange County is affiliated with UC Irvine Healthcare and UC Irvine School of Medicine

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