Asthma 411 expands across Tarrant County
By Jan Jarvis
“Squeezing,” shouted Kim Nguyen as she hugged herself as tightly as possible and encouraged the roomful of second-graders to do the same.
“That’s what your airways are doing during an asthma attack,” said Nguyen, Project Coordinator for SaferCare Texas, a department of UNT Health Science Center dedicated to improving the quality and safety of health care.
For many of the students at Harrison Lane Elementary in Hurst, this lesson about asthma likely hits home. An estimated 19 percent of Tarrant County children have been diagnosed with the disease.
The educational outreach program, introduced in October, is the newest addition to Asthma 411, a comprehensive evidence-based initiative in Tarrant County. The new program combines fun with facts to help kids gain a better understanding of asthma as well as respiratory health.
In the cafeteria of Harrison Lane Elementary, students gathered to learn what asthma actually feels like and what they can do to feel better.
When Nguyen encouraged them to whistle as loud as possible, the room vibrated with a high- pitched airy sound.
“That’s what wheezing sounds like if you have asthma,” she said.
Over the 45-minute class, children learned the symptoms of asthma, how it is treated and what makes the disease worse or better. As part of the discussion, critical topics such as vaping and tobacco use come up.
For students who already have asthma, the lesson might be familiar. An estimated 28,000 children currently have asthma in the school districts that have adopted Asthma 411, which was introduced on two Fort Worth ISD campuses in 2013.
An important component of Asthma 411 equips school nurses with the training and resources to quickly respond to a child in respiratory distress. With a physician’s standing orders, a school nurse can administer nebulized albuterol to help a child breathe better.
The two-year pilot showed elimination of school day 911 calls for asthma and a reduction in the absenteeism gap between kids with and without asthma.
The results were so impressive that the program was expanded across Tarrant County. Today, Asthma 411 is on 344 campuses in 10 North Texas school districts. Asthma 411, a collaboration between SaferCare Texas, UNTHSC, Cook Children’s and JPS Health Network, was developed
to address these issues.
“Every time a nurse can care for a child at school instead of calling EMS, there is a clear benefit for the student, school and family,” said Leslie Allsopp, SaferCare Texas Project Manager.
But providing quick-relief for asthma symptoms isn’t enough. Helping families identify and eliminate triggers for the disease and have a medical plan to control system is critical, she said.
“Children at risk for poor asthma control are also more likely to have exposures to environmental triggers,” Allsopp said. “This can include older houses with mold and allergens, living or playing near busy roads or exposure to smoking.”
The educational component of Asthma 411 is another way to reach out to children with asthma and their families.
“Right now we are defining where the need is the greatest,” Nguyen said. “But we hope to expand our educational program to all schools.”