Take Control of Asthma: How one young athlete took back her life – and her sport, part II

  • Taken from the story, A Winning Season
    Breathe Better, Live in Wellness: Winning your Battle Over Shortness of Breath
    ©Copyright Jane M. Martin.  Infinity Publishing, 2003


    Jennifer Smith, a college student and award-winning tennis player who has asthma, shared her story at our annual asthma education event. Here is the conclusion of that story, as she told it that day.
    Read Part I for the beginning of Jennifer's story.

    …I had hit my rock bottom point and right then and there I decided that I was going to beat this thing before it beat me. I was going to take control again of my body and my life! 

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    After some persistence on my part I was finally referred to a pulmonologist in March and started on a myriad of new medications the week of our spring break tennis trip. It was he, the lung specialist, who taught me how to use a peak flow meter and to record my daily progress on peak flow charts.  Even though this seemed foreign to me, I now had the tools I needed to succeed.  All I had to do was follow through. I realized that carrying out his instructions was necessary for me to make progress and at that point I was willing to do anything in order to get better. 

    I became a lot less shy about people around me knowing I had asthma for both their sake and mine and, in fact, it soon became my desire to educate them.  I wanted others to know what was going on in my body because what you don’t understand you are more inclined to fear. So I decided to explain to my college housemates and teammates what asthma was, what it was doing to my body and how they should react if an emergency situation arose.  

    I began doing all my peak flows and meds in the bathroom, which I shared with six other girls. One day one of them said to me, “Not doing so hot today, huh?”

    I replied, “How do you know?”  

    She said, “Well, when you do well you always say ‘yesss!’ after your peak flow reading – and when you do poorly you always do a deep sigh.” 

    I guess you can say I’m competitive!

    Managing my asthma was also an education process for me to learn about myself, to learn about my triggers, to know about my body and how it reacts, knowing when to increase or decrease my medications, and how to take proactive steps to prevent asthma episodes.  I was like a sponge and read everything I could get my hands on about asthma so I could better understand what was going on in my body. 

    I went back to my pulmonologist after a month of this treatment and brought my peak flow charts.  I had diligently completed all sides and columns daily, just as he had asked.  The charts clearly showed my roller coaster-like start, but with my commitment and dedication to follow the regimen, I had achieved consistently high peak flow results.  It is true that I experienced many ups and downs and it has been far from easy, but it has been well worth the effort. By bringing my charts with me, the doctor could better treat me because he could see my daily progress.  This said a lot more to him than, "Oh yeah, I’m doing better," when he asked me how I was feeling.  

  • My breathing had, indeed, been out of control and but now I am happy to say that it is under control.  I went from defaulting matches in February of my junior year in college to having one of my most successful tennis seasons ever by the end of April. I was named First Team All-Conference two years running, league MVP, and finished my college career ranked 14th in the nation in Division III tennis!  I still remember the day when I thought all my athletic dreams had been lost, but I remind myself that it was possible to do what I first thought impossible.

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    Through this I began to appreciate things I had taken for granted.  Breathing and exercise became a privilege. I learned that just because you are given medication, it will not fully help you unless you are determined to take it and not stop taking it even if you feel better. Asthma control is maximized with preventative measures so that instead of putting out fires, you simply make sure that one never occurs.  

    If you suffer from asthma, I encourage you to view your doctor as a teammate. He or she will help you regulate your medication if you provide the information needed.  Having a good asthma doctor and working in partnership with him brought about a night and day change to my health and I know that steps like these can, and will, do the same for yours.
    Visit Jane Martin at BreathingBetterLivingWell.com

Published On: May 05, 2008