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Better breathing for kids

A deep breath - free of wheezing - is something to be savored by youngsters in northeastern North Carolina, thanks to a pediatric asthma program at Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in Ahoskie.

"Through funding from the Zaslow brothers, Wells Fargo Bank and the Children’s Miracle Network, the program has changed the lives of more than 100 kids in its first year of existence," said Lisa Newsome, the hospital’s director of marketing and public relations. It targets Hertford and Northampton counties, both of which have a much higher incidence of diagnosed asthma and undiagnosed wheezing than the rest of North Carolina.

Modeled after other successful initiatives in the Vidant Health system, the program is part of the Community Benefit Grants Program, which provides targeted funds to address chronic health issues throughout eastern North Carolina.

The Roanoke-Chowan program involves a specially trained respiratory therapist, Theresa Langston, who evaluates children with breathing problems, links them with the community resources they need and teaches them and their parents how to respond when flare-ups occur.

Langston gets referrals from the emergency department, physicians, school nurses, pharmacists and others who detect chronic breathing issues in children. Lacking a family physician, many of these youngsters have lingering needs that have not been addressed.

Poverty is a contributing factor. More than one quarter of the population in Hertford and Northampton counties lives in poverty. Langston makes home visits where she finds that living circumstances often trigger breathing problems. Homes that are not fully enclosed, cigarette smokers living in the house and other environmental factors are often to blame, she said. She serves as a catalyst to get many of these issues addressed, especially when homes are not structurally sound enough to protect children from the elements.

The circumstances in this region inspired a significant donation from Jerome, Arnold and Spencer Zaslow, Philadelphia industrialists with ties to the community, to get the program started. Their generosity, in turn, prompted the Roanoke-Chowan Foundation to lend its support for the second year.

Langston’s services are provided at no cost and follow guidelines from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. She offers individualized instruction to children and parents, provides some of the equipment they need and makes recommendations to their physician. Of 109 youth educated through the program, only eight required an Emergency Department visit; of those, just one had to be admitted to the hospital.

As a result, youngsters in Hertford and Northampton counties miss fewer days of school, participate more fully in physical activities and look forward to a brighter future.

And that makes everyone breathe easier.