DECATUR — Amy Pratt's now-grown daughter has allergy-induced asthma, so at certain times of the year, she has to face some real health challenges.
“She doesn't show signs (of asthma) until she has an allergic reaction, like hay fever and pollen," she said. "She's an adult now, so she takes care of herself.”
Pratt also has two younger children, and when she heard about Decatur public schools' Asthma Awareness Night at the Children's Museum of Illinois, she decided to go.
“We wanted to go to the children's museum, anyway,” she said as the youngsters explored the new Heroes Hall area. “I wasn't sure what it was about until we got here, but it's a good thing to have more information on asthma.”
An Illinois Department of Public Health grant paid for the program, which is managed by SIU School of Medicine, said Angie Wetzel, the district's health coordinator. A nurse educator led training sessions for parents on asthma triggers and management and the rising number of asthmatics. Muffley and Franklin schools, as two of the buildings in the Trauma-Informed Partnership among the Education Coalition of Macon County, Illinois Education Association and SIU, were invited for the event.
“SIU came to us and said there was some grant money available, so the union (DEA) got that going and got us talking and we were able to rent the museum and invite parents,” Wetzel said. “Hopefully we can take what we learn from this out to the rest of the schools.”
Asthma rates are increasing, and health care experts don't know why, according to Partners Asthma Center, part of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Some speculation is that doctors are better at diagnosing it, the center notes, and other theories are that “tight” houses with climate controls create less fresh air circulation, and that leads to more dust, mites and mold in indoor air. Yet another theory is that when diseases such tuberculosis, measles and whooping cough were largely eradicated, the body's immune system turned its attention to allergens, according to the center.
Whatever the reason, Wetzel said, in an urban population with large numbers of low-income families who move often and may not have a regular healthcare provider, when family members have asthma, regular control is less likely. In an attack, they may visit the emergency room, receive a rescue inhaler and instructions to follow up with their own doctor, but never make that follow-up visit. Without a regular dose of control medication and care, the asthma worsens.
That's where the Trauma-Informed Partnership comes in, said Jonathan Downing, UniServ Director with the Illinois Education Association. “Trauma” does not necessarily mean a family lives in violence and chaos. Sometimes, it means health issues make everyday life more difficult and that could affect a child's ability to concentrate and do well at school.
“They realize it's not just focusing on what the kid is displaying because of an issue,” Downing said. “Sometimes, it's because they're not getting the proper health care. Families are not aware of it. So tonight is about asthma, an area that a lot of people need education on: asthma, how to take care of it, how to make sure the kids are getting the proper health care, understanding it and how you can support your child in the school system.”
The whole idea of a trauma-informed community, he said, is that all aspects of the community pull together to provide support for children and help them thrive, and good healthcare is a big part of that.
“We have a nice, friendly atmosphere, the families come in here and the kids can go play while the parents go into training to learn how to support this process,” he said.