DCH News

Patients & Families

Driscoll's McAllen clinic gives away school supplies courtesy of H-E-B

August 30, 2011
Pictured, left to right, are: Margaret Kasofsky, Auxiliary member; Juan M. Davila; Juan Daniel Davila, a Driscoll patient; Kassandra Jasso, H-E-B public affairs; Sherry Cruz; Socorro Franz, Auxiliary member; and (sitting) Rory Steven Cruz, Driscoll patient.
Pictured, left to right, are: Margaret Kasofsky, Auxiliary member; Juan M. Davila; Juan Daniel Davila, a Driscoll patient; Kassandra Jasso, H-E-B public affairs; Sherry Cruz; Socorro Franz, Auxiliary member; and (sitting) Rory Steven Cruz, Driscoll patient.
McALLEN - The Auxiliary to Driscoll Children's Medical Plaza - McAllen recently received a $1,000 donation from H-E-B to support their annual Back-To-School Supply Giveaway for their patients. Throughout August, Auxiliary members gave each patient a package of school supplies appropriate for their grade level. Driscoll's Auxiliary relies on contributions from the community to help make a positive impact in the lives of South Texas children. To learn more about helping, call the Auxiliary at (956) 688-1235 or (956) 289-3170.

Wig gives confidence to newly diagnosed cancer patient, 13

August 29, 2011
Event at Driscoll Children's Hospital will benefit cancer patients who've lost their hair

CORPUS CHRISTI - It all started about two months ago with an unusual lump on her neck. At first, Taylor Garcia was told it was a staph infection and was given antibiotics and steroids to treat it. After a month, the lump wasn't making any progress and another lump appeared.

"Her ear, nose and throat specialist decided to remove the lump and biopsy it," said Jennifer Garcia, Taylor's mom. "Originally, the pathologist said, 'Looks fine, just send it off for further testing and we'll see.' None of us expected it to come back as Hodgkin's."

On July 7, Taylor found out she had stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma, and her life changed suddenly. She was just six days shy of her 13th birthday. The next day she had an appointment with an oncologist at Driscoll Children's Hospital's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Taylor, who takes her hair very seriously, often changed her dark brown locks, from cutting them short and choppy with red streaks to lightening them to a caramel color. Then she learned she would lose her hair from chemotherapy treatment.

"I didn't really care what was going on until the doctor told me I was going to lose my hair," she said. "I really like my hair. I get it done every month so I was pretty upset."

Upon hearing she would be losing her hair, Taylor went to a family friend and local hairdresser and requested blue streaks. Then, less than 10 days after her first chemotherapy treatment at Driscoll, she started losing her hair; a little in the shower and more and more as she brushed through it.

"It started a week after we dyed it, so I decided to cut it short. A couple days after that, I ended up shaving it all," she said.

During an appointment at Driscoll, Child Life Specialist Mara Ellis spoke with Taylor about getting a wig from an organization called Children with Hair Loss. Two days after she shaved her head, Taylor's wig came in.

"Hair loss is the most visible sign that a person is battling cancer," Ellis said. "Children and adolescents want to feel like they are the same as their peers. Wigs give them the confidence to not be judged when they go to the mall and gives them the courage to go back to school and hang out with friends."

Although Taylor lost her beloved hair, her new wig allows her to change up her look when she wants to. In fact, she got it cut to the style that her hair was before she lost it and bought blue clip-on streaks to add to it.

"I actually think the wig looks a lot better than my regular hair!," she said, laughing.

Last year, Driscoll Children's Hospital commemorated Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by inviting the community to have their hair cut so it could be made into wigs for young cancer patients who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy. The event was such an overwhelming success that Driscoll is doing it again this year on Sept. 19. Hairstylists from several local salons will be on hand to cut hair and donate it to Children with Hair Loss.

"My hairstylist will be one of the people there," Taylor said, smiling. "I'm going to help her."

The public is invited to show their support and donate their hair at the event, which is sponsored by ExxonMobil. There will be commemorative t-shirts for sale, door prizes, food provided by Freebirds World Burrito and music. Additionally, a bloodmobile from Coastal Bend Blood Center will be on site accepting donations.

Hair must be at least eight inches from the ponytail and chemically treated hair will be accepted as long as it's healthy. Hair will be clipped and given a straight cut, but not styled.

"We want to celebrate our little warriors and let them know that we - not just Driscoll Children's Hospital, but the whole community - are standing behind them and supporting them," Ellis said.

  • What: Childhood Cancer Awareness Month hair cutting event and blood drive

  • When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19

  • Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital auditorium, 3533 S. Alameda St.

  • Information: (361) 694-5311

Library of specialized toys available to children with disabilities

July 18, 2011
Specialized toys from Driscoll's Toy Tech Lending Library are therapeutic for patients like Emilio, 5, who has tuberous sclerosis and epilepsy. Assisting him are Rachel Garcia, certified occupational therapy assistant (middle) and Amanda Germann, speech pathologist.
Specialized toys from Driscoll's Toy Tech Lending Library are therapeutic for patients like Emilio, 5, who has tuberous sclerosis and epilepsy. Assisting him are Rachel Garcia, certified occupational therapy assistant (middle) and Amanda Germann, speech pathologist.
CORPUS CHRISTI - It has been said that children learn best through play. With this in mind, and with support from the Easter Seals of Greater Houston and the Blanche Moore Foundation, Driscoll Children's Hospital's Rehabilitation Services Department created a unique library that loans specialized toys to children of all ages with all types of disabilities.

According to Susan Fields, director of Rehabilitation Services at Driscoll, children explore their environment through play. "When we can help them play independently, we are helping them become independent learners. This is an important foundation for developing life skills," she says.

The new Toy Tech Lending Library at Driscoll provides a variety of toys adapted for children with varying degrees of motor disabilities. The toys, which are switch activated, can be used at home to practice skills a child has learned in his or her therapy sessions.

Since these toys are adapted especially for children with handicaps, they aren't readily available at a toy store and are often expensive.

A $30 toy, when adapted, can easily cost $100. However, through Driscoll's Lending Library, families are able to check out these adapted toys at no cost.

Just as with a book library, the toys are checked out for two to four weeks at a time. Upon return, another toy can be checked out. About 20 toys are available, and not just to Driscoll patients. All children in the community with disabilities are invited to borrow toys from the Toy Tech Lending Library.

Mary Ann Sosa's granddaughter, Madison, 5, is a patient at Driscoll. She suffers from cerebral palsy and often borrows toys from the Lending Library.

"It's a great thing. It really helps at home," Sosa says. "We are able to work at home on the things her therapists want her to work on. Right now she's learning to use her arms more."

Sosa explains that the toys make Madison want to use her arms more because of the reaction she gets from her grandmother.

"When Madison pushes the button on a toy, she notices it plays music and I cheer her on. She loves the attention she gets!"

Fields hopes more families take advantage of the Lending Library.

"We just started offering toys for check-out in April, so it's a fairly new program," she says. "The more these toys are utilized, the more toys we are able to receive through the grant."

For more information or to set up an orientation to the Toy Tech program, please call Driscoll's Rehabilitation Services Department at (361) 694-5678.

Shortage of donor breast milk affecting Driscoll

July 05, 2011
CORPUS CHRISTI - The Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin, which provides donated, pasteurized human breast milk to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) throughout Texas and other states, is experiencing a shortage that is affecting the supply at Driscoll Children's Hospital.

"The shortage is due to a lack of donors and a lack of community awareness about the Mothers' Milk Bank," said Driscoll Lactation Program Coordinator Laurie Beck, RN, MSN, IBCLC. "We always try to keep extra donor milk in our freezer so as to be prepared for any new admissions. The babies we have on donor milk at present do not have mothers who are able to provide their own milk."

Beck said she has been trying to order 200 bottles of donor milk a week for Driscoll patients but has only been able to obtain 50 bottles at a time. Each bottle contains three ounces of milk.

Mother's milk is the preferred choice of nutrition for babies and donor milk is the second, Beck said. The Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin screens all potential donors to ensure safety, pasteurizes the milk and freezes it as a sterile product. NICUs in 14 states order the milk for critically ill newborns, especially preemies.

Lactating mothers can help by donating their milk. The first step is to call the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin at 1-877-813-6455 for a phone interview. After completing an application process, they can drop off their milk at Mom's Place at Driscoll Children's Hospital, 3533 S. Alameda St., between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Mom's Place is a drop-off site for the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin and a storehouse for breast milk that is used to feed infants at Driscoll. It is also a breastfeeding resource center for mothers with a baby in Driscoll and a private place for them to pump milk.

For more information about the milk donation process, mothers can call Beck at (361) 694-5338 or go to the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin's web site at www.milkbank.org.

Brownsville family's fighting spirit aiding boy battling cancer

June 13, 2011
Matthew Carroll, 8, of Brownsville, is battling osteosarcoma, a cancer that caused him to lose his left leg from the knee down.
Matthew Carroll, 8, of Brownsville, is battling osteosarcoma, a cancer that caused him to lose his left leg from the knee down.
CORPUS CHRISTI - Ada Escobedo will never forget the date: Dec. 15, 2010. That's when, half in shock, she drove her 8-year-old son, Matthew Carroll, from their home in Brownsville to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi to have a tumor checked out in his left leg. They had just seen an orthopedic specialist in Brownsville who recommended she take him there.

"We drove there the same day," Escobedo said. "At Driscoll they took blood tests, X-rays and did a biopsy. That's when they told us it was a malignant tumor and he needed to start on chemotherapy treatments. It was just really quick. It was a really sad Christmas for us."

For about two weeks before Dec. 15, Matthew and his family thought he had sprained his ankle while playing football at school. He complained about lingering pain after some friends fell on top of him. The first doctor they went to thought it was a normal sports injury that would go away, Escobedo said. Another doctor diagnosed it as a sprain or fracture.

At Driscoll Children's Hospital, it was found that Matthew actually had osteosarcoma, a malignant tumor of the bone. It is the most common type of bone tumor in children, with 150 to 200 new cases diagnosed per year, said hematologist/oncologist Nkechi Mba, M.D., one of Matthew's physicians at Driscoll.

"We see on average 2 to 3 new patients with osteosarcoma each year at Driscoll," Dr. Mba said.

Despite the diagnosis and her son's chemotherapy treatments, which often made him sick, Escobedo stayed strong for her family.

"I didn't have time to cry," she said. "We just started fighting. It's been like one fight after another against the cancer."

As bad as the news was for Matthew and his family, it got worse. After three months of chemotherapy treatments, the cancer was spreading rapidly up his left leg. The decision was made that he would have to lose the leg. It was amputated from the knee down in March 2011.

"That was really, really hurtful," Escobedo said. "But we knew we had to do it because we had no other way. If he wouldn't have lost his leg he wouldn't be with us."

Depending on the location of the tumor, amputation is one of the surgical options for patients with osteosarcoma, Dr. Mba said.

Escobedo said Matthew is doing better now after the amputation and that his cancer is almost gone. He comes to Driscoll regularly for weeks at a time for chemotherapy treatments. Because it's difficult for Escobedo to take off work frequently, Matthew usually rides a bus with his grandfather from Brownsville to Corpus Christi. His grandfather, José Barrón, stays at the Ronald McDonald House next to Driscoll when he isn't at Matthew's bedside.

"The Ronald McDonald House has been like my home," said Barrón, who considers Matthew a son.

Matthew also receives care at Driscoll Children's Specialty Center - Brownsville. Escobedo takes him there for occasional check-ups, blood work and X-rays. Recently, when he was sick and had a fever, she took him to the clinic and was given antibiotics.

"It makes me feel safer that the clinic is right there," Escobedo said. "I have no words to express the gratitude I have for their care."

During a recent stay at Driscoll Children's Hospital, Matthew said although the chemotherapy makes him nauseous and vomit, he knows he needs it. Sitting on his hospital bed, he talked about what he misses in a shy, whispered voice.

"I miss going to school, playing sports and walking," he said. "I use crutches. They help me but it's not like really walking."

Matthew is normally an "A" honor roll student who loves school, Escobedo said, but because he has missed so much school, he will have to repeat the second grade through home-schooling when his chemotherapy is over. He currently has about nine weeks of chemotherapy treatments to go, Dr. Mba said.

Her son loves sports too, Escobedo said. Looking to the future, she isn't sure how Matthew will adjust to missing out on playing football and other sports with his friends.

"I don't think anybody can adjust to that," she said. "But we have God in our hearts. We're going to let him guide us the right way."

Camp Easy Breathers marks 10 years of helping asthmatic children have fun while coping with their condition

June 10, 2011
CORPUS CHRISTI - There is no cure for asthma, but children with the disease can live a healthy, active life. The 10th annual Camp Easy Breathers, a summer day-camp for children with persistent asthma, is designed to provide physical and social experiences that are fun while increasing a child's understanding of his or her asthma. The camp, sponsored by Driscoll Children's Hospital, the Coastal Bend Community Foundation and the Coastal Bend Asthma Initiative, will be from June 12-15, 2011 at Camp Aranzazu in Rockport.

For its 10th anniversary, Camp Easy Breathers will offer a new, more hands-on approach with more interactive asthma lessons than in years past.

"We wanted to make it more fun for our new campers, and especially for those campers who are returning for a second or even third year," said Shelly Bigelow, camp director and respiratory therapist at Driscoll Children's Hospital. "Our new curriculum was developed in keeping with our goal of improving the lives of children with asthma."

Bigelow said the camp utilizes interactive teaching methods such as open dialogue, various media, activities and game-play that reinforce key lessons to help children:

  • Understand asthma and how it affects them;

  • Recognize and avoid asthma attack triggers;

  • Recognize warning signs to improve asthma management;

  • Know how and when to take medicine;

  • Stay healthy and stay in school.

There will also be a carnival this year with games, obstacle courses and other activities, Bigelow said. Regular activities will include swimming, arts and crafts, outdoor games, sports and an awards show.

Asthma is a chronic disease in which the airways in the lungs become swollen, clogged and overly sensitive to changes in the environment. During an attack, the muscles that surround the airways tighten and the inner lining of the airways swells and pushes inward.

Asthma kills about 5,000 Americans each year and costs the United States more than $10 billion a year in direct and indirect medical expenses. Timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, partnership with a healthcare professional and reduction of exposure to environmental factors are some of the things that help children living with asthma.

  • What: 10th annual Camp Easy Breathers

  • When: June 12-15, 2011

  • Where: Camp Aranzazu, Rockport

Children become anglers for a day at annual Chemo Kids Fish Off

June 03, 2011
ARANSAS PASS - The much-anticipated Chemo Kids Fish Off, scheduled for June 6 at Hampton's Landing Marina in Aransas Pass, is an annual excursion that allows children with cancer to take their minds off chemotherapy for a day and concentrate on catching fish with their favorite Driscoll staff members.

More than 50 children, ages 5 - 18, will venture out to waters in guide-driven boats in hopes to catch the most fish. When the junior anglers return to dry land, volunteers will be on hand to weigh fish and help patients make a print of the catch of the day. Patients are also treated to a hotdog lunch and each is recognized at an awards ceremony. The Chemo Kids Fish Off has become a tradition that kids look forward to every summer!

What: Driscoll Children's Hospital's Annual Chemo Kids Fish Off

When: Boats return, 11 a.m., June 6

Where: Hampton's Landing Marina, 430 E. Ransom Rd., Aransas Pass

Fun, therapy combined in new park at Driscoll

May 20, 2011
CORPUS CHRISTI - The new Rehab Therapy Park at Driscoll Children's Hospital is a ton of fun for the children who use it. It's a colorful, outdoor playground with a wooden bridge, a merry-go-round, garden planters, an activity board and benches. There are even misting fans and shade canvases above. For Driscoll's physical, occupational and speech therapists, it's the perfect place to let their patients have fun while providing them individualized therapy.

"A team of therapists came together and thought about what we would need to complement what we already had in our Rehab Department," said Anna Cerda, P.T., outpatient rehabilitation manager. "The park was one idea. It simulates the community environment and gives the therapists additional tools to provide the best therapy possible."

The Rehab Therapy Park was constructed this year with $140,000 from community support. It's one of several new features that have greatly enhanced the rehabilitation therapy program at Driscoll, which currently serves about 2,500 children.

Almost everything in the park has a therapeutic purpose, Cerda said. The bridge is designed to be wobbly, which challenges children to use muscles in a way they may not be used to. The merry-go-round is used to help children who have movement disorders, decreased strength or difficulty with head control and range of motion.

Some of the features aren't obviously therapeutic. The surface is covered by playground-type rubber with cobblestone and flagstone paths. For children who use a wheelchair or special assistive device like a walker, the surfaces simulate what they may encounter in the community, Cerda said.

Herb garden planters built at three different heights allow children to kneel, stand or sit while gardening or watering the plants. What seem like easy activities can actually help them develop balance and coordination and improve body movement, Cerda said.

The speech activity board has rotating parts on which speech therapists place magnetic pictures, symbols and numbers. Therapists can help improve a child's vocabulary by playing match games, tic-tac-toe or simply creating a game with them.

"It's nice to do things with the speech activity board instead of sitting at a table with the child," said Leah Groves, speech language pathologist at Driscoll. "That's how children learn, by moving and doing things with their hands. It's just more interesting to them."

The park is often used as a reward for children when they need a little motivation to complete certain activities, Cerda said. It's available to any child in the community who is referred by their physician, she added.

Driscoll's rehab equipment and specialized, up-to-date technology allows its therapists to address any pediatric rehabilitation need.

"We're not an adult facility that sees children," said Susan Fields, director of the Rehabilitation Department. "We are specifically designed and equipped to work with children and adolescents of any age."

NOTE: This is the first in a series of press releases that will focus on Driscoll's new rehabilitation therapy equipment.

Families to share support, good times at Driscoll's annual Transplant Reunion

May 05, 2011
Brothers Dondi, 13 (left), and Mark Maldonado, 12, who have both had kidney transplants at Driscoll, plan to attend the annual Transplant Reunion with their family Saturday, May 7, at the Texas State Aquarium.
Brothers Dondi, 13 (left), and Mark Maldonado, 12, who have both had kidney transplants at Driscoll, plan to attend the annual Transplant Reunion with their family Saturday, May 7, at the Texas State Aquarium.
About 200 people expected at event Saturday at Texas State Aquarium

CORPUS CHRISTI - Coming in for blood tests at Driscoll Children's Hospital's Kidney Center is a routine affair for brothers Mark and Dondi Maldonado. The 12- and 13-year-old, who have both received kidney transplants at Driscoll, hang out in the waiting area, play with their younger siblings and joke around with their parents, Roger and Cindy Maldonado. It's a comfortable, happy scene compared to when the brothers were undergoing dialysis treatment before their transplants.

"It's hard when your children are going through something like that and they're in the hospital," Cindy Maldonado said. "It hurts you as a parent. Plus we have four other kids. Sometimes I felt like I was getting overwhelmed but I had to stay strong for my kids. The strength of my husband and the people at the hospital are what kept me going."

On Saturday, the Maldonado family will be joining other families of Driscoll kidney transplant patients at the Texas State Aquarium for the annual Transplant Reunion. The event is designed for patients and their families to enjoy some fun, food, games and fellowship.

Mark and Dondi Maldonado both have juvenile nephronophthisis, a childhood genetic kidney disease in which there is progressive destruction of the kidneys and eventual kidney failure. Mark had his transplant in 2008 and Dondi had his last November. They are among 41 children who have had kidney transplants at Driscoll Children's Hospital since 2007 and the second pair of siblings to have had the procedure at the hospital.

Cindy Maldonado said transplant families share a special bond and support each other through their experiences.

"I've met a lot of families here," she said of Driscoll's Kidney Center. "One family we became good friends with. We talk and make sure they're doing OK.

"The reunion is nice because everybody can come together," she added. "It also lets the kids know they're as normal as anyone else. They like to catch up with each other like the parents do."

Transplant Coordinator Anita Rosales expects about 200 people to attend this year's reunion. Large tents will be set up on the sprawling lawn in front of the Aquarium, a location that proved to be ideal for the event last year. Staging the reunion is rewarding for the staff at Driscoll's Kidney Center.

"Our transplant team enjoys putting this reunion together for our patients," Rosales said. "It is our way of celebrating them and their new gift. We look forward to seeing each and every one of them. Many of them live in the Rio Grande Valley and make the trip to the reunion because they enjoy the camaraderie and the activities so much."

Besides the other transplant families, Cindy Maldonado said the reunion will be a good chance for her family to visit with her sons' medical staff from Driscoll.

"I definitely feel like I have a bond with the staff - the nurses, Dr. (Samhar) Al-Akash and Anita (Rosales) especially. I feel like they care about people 100 percent."

  • What: Driscoll Children's Hospital annual Transplant Reunion

  • When: Noon Saturday, May 7

  • Where: Texas State Aquarium

Asthma 101: What Parents Should Know

May 03, 2011
Child life specialists and respiratory therapists at Driscoll Children's Hospital use
Child life specialists and respiratory therapists at Driscoll Children's Hospital use "Radical Randy" to teach children about asthma and respiratory problems.
May is Asthma Awareness Month

May is Asthma Awareness Month, and Driscoll Children's Hospital wants you to know as much as you can about the disease so you can recognize it and, if necessary, help your child better deal with it. With proper treatment and a team approach to managing asthma, most children with asthma can live a normal life. Asthma, however, can be a life-threatening disease. It is important for families to work together with healthcare professionals to develop an asthma action plan to properly care for the child.

Pediatrician Daniel Vijjeswarapu, M.D., has treated children with asthma for 19 years. He provided the following information for parents whose children have asthma.

What causes asthma?

In children who have asthma, their airways are inflamed and "twitchy" because they overreact to irritants in the environment. These irritants are called triggers, and they include anything that sets off an asthma flare-up. Different children have different triggers. Some common asthma triggers are allergies, chest colds, pollution and exercise. To control your child's asthma, you have to find out what his or her triggers are and learn how to deal with them.

How does asthma work?

When your child has asthma, his or her airways are inflamed much of the time. This inflammation can make breathing difficult for three reasons:

  • The inside lining of the airways swells inward. This narrows the space inside their airways.

  • The muscles around the airways tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm (or bronchoconstriction). Bronchospasm also narrows the airways.

  • The child's airways produce more mucous. Excess mucous clogs the airways, narrowing the space for air to pass through.

With their inflamed airways narrowed by swelling, bronchospasm and excess mucous, air doesn't move as easily into and out of their lungs. It can be like trying to breathe through a narrow straw - they have to work extra hard to get air in and out. Other asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing and chest tightness can also happen. This is an asthma flare-up (also called an asthma "attack").

Asthma symptoms: From bad to worse

Below are some common asthma symptoms that can happen as an asthma flare-up worsens:

  • Cough. The first thing you may notice is a persistent (ongoing) cough, especially at night.

  • Wheezing. You may hear a high-pitched whistling sound as the child breathes. This sound, called wheezing, means that the air is having trouble moving through his or her airways. Wheezing usually happens when they breathe out. But as the asthma worsens, you might also hear wheezing when they breathe in.

  • Difficulty breathing, chest tightness. As the child's breathing becomes more difficult, he or she can feel pain or tightness in their chest. Children are likely to say that their chest hurts.

  • Shallow breathing. The child may find it difficult to take a deep breath. Their breaths become smaller and shallower as their condition worsens.

  • Fast breathing. As breathing becomes shallower, it also becomes faster as the child's body tries to get more oxygen into their lungs. A child breathing faster than 50 breaths a minute while at rest is breathing fast.

  • Retractions. As the asthma flare-up worsens, you may notice that the child's skin and muscles between their ribs and at the base of their throat are "pulling in" or "retracting" with each breath in. These retractions show that they're really struggling to get air into their lungs.

  • Life-threatening symptoms. If an asthma flare-up becomes very severe, the child won't be able to work hard enough to breathe in. At this point, the retractions and wheezing may actually begin to go away. Their breathing will become very shallow. And, because their body isn't getting enough oxygen, their face and lips may turn slightly blue. Symptoms like these are very dangerous and require immediate emergency care.

To get the most out of your child's asthma treatment, you should:

  • Understand the different types of medication and when your child should take them.

  • Make sure the child uses the medication delivery device - an inhaler or nebulizer - correctly.

  • Establish good habits for staying on schedule with your child's medication.

There are two basic types of asthma medications: Quick-relief and controller medications. Quick-relief medications, also called rescue medications, can stop an asthma flare-up from getting worse. They work immediately, usually within 5 to 10 minutes, to help open airways during an asthma flare-up. Quick-relief medications do not prevent future symptoms.

Controller medications, also called maintenance medications, should be taken every day on a regular basis even if the child is symptom-free and feeling well. Controller medications help prevent asthma flare-ups.

Some precautions asthmatic children should take in their daily lives

If your child isn't taking his or her medication properly, you need to talk and find out why. Keep the tone positive and encouraging. Start by pointing out what is working, then go on to explore the following possible problems together:

  • "I don't want to take my medication!" If your child actively resists taking medication, find out why. Is he or she embarrassed? Does the medication taste bad? Are medication side effects bothering him or her? Work with your child and your child's healthcare provider and teachers to find ways to minimize these problems.

  • "It's too hard." Make sure your child understands when and how to take various medications. (An asthma action plan can help here.) Have your doctor or asthma educator reinforce your child's technique for taking inhaled medications.

  • "I don't need medication." There are lots of reasons why children might think they don't need medication. They might have become used to poor lung function and think that it's normal. They could be practicing "wishful thinking" - deciding that their asthma has gone away. (Just because they don't have symptoms now doesn't mean their asthma is gone!) Or perhaps they're not getting much benefit from their medication, in which case they need to have their treatment adjusted. Make an appointment with your child's doctor to review and agree upon an asthma action plan.

Other precautions to take

You and your family can help control a child's asthma by helping get rid of the indoor triggers that make symptoms worse. If possible, keep pets outdoors, or at least away from the child's bedroom.

No one should smoke in a house or around a child with asthma. Eliminating tobacco smoke from the home is the single most important thing a family can do to help a child with asthma. Smoking outside the house is not enough. Family members and visitors who smoke carry smoke residue in and on their clothes and hair, and this can trigger asthma symptoms.

Keeping humidity levels low and fixing leaks can reduce growth of organisms such as mold. Keep the house clean and keep food in containers and out of bedrooms - this helps reduce the possibility of cockroaches, which can trigger asthma attacks.

Bedding can be covered with "allergy-proof," polyurethane-coated casings to reduce exposure to dust mites. Detergents and cleaning agents in the home should be unscented. All of these efforts can make a significant difference to the child with asthma, even though it may not be obvious right away.

Myth and truth

Myth: "Children usually outgrow asthma."

Truth: How asthma affects children throughout their lifetimes varies. In some children, symptoms get worse over time. In other children, symptoms seem to go away as the lungs develop. Still, people who seem to have "outgrown" childhood asthma often have their symptoms reappear in adulthood.

The bottom line? Even if symptoms go away, the tendency toward asthma is still there. That's why children diagnosed with asthma should work with a doctor to match their treatment plan to their current condition.

Driscoll Children's Hospital offers asthma help

Driscoll offers resources for asthmatic children such as one-on-one classes with Candace, "The Asthma Lady." The classes are for families and can be scheduled at their convenience. If you are interested in attending an asthma class, contact Candace Martaus to schedule a time at (361) 694-4167 or candace.martaus@dchstx.org. The classes are free of charge.

Also, in June, there is a summer day-camp for children with persistent asthma. The 10th annual Camp Easy Breathers is designed to provide physical and social experiences that are fun while increasing a child's understanding of his or her asthma. Sponsored by Driscoll Children's Hospital and the Coastal Bend Asthma Initiative, the camp will be from June 12-15, 2011 at Camp Aranzazu in Rockport. The registration deadline is June 3, 2011. For more information, call (361) 694-4580 or click here.

Facts about Asthma

According to the latest available information from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, consider the following statistics:

  • About 22.2 million people in the US have been diagnosed with asthma, with at least 6.5 million of them children under the age of 18.

  • Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children in the US.

  • Asthma accounts for 14 million absences from school each year.

  • Asthma is 26 percent more common in African-American children than in Caucasian children.

  • African-American children with asthma, most often from inner-city populations, generally experience more severe disability from asthma and have more frequent hospitalizations than do Caucasian children.

  • Asthma is the third most common cause of childhood hospitalizations under the age of 15.

  • More than 200,000 children with asthma experience symptoms that are more severe due to exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • About 10 million doctor's office visits annually result in a diagnosis of asthma.

  • Asthma cases and asthma deaths have been on the rise, and hospitalizations for asthma have increased.

  • Asthma treatment costs an estimated $18 billion each year, including direct and indirect expenditures.