Everyone knows someone with asthma - it affects one in five households in the UK. But not everyone knows that asthma is serious and can be fatal, even in people who only have ‘mild’ asthma. Over 1,100 people die each year from asthma in the UK, and a quarter of a million people have asthma so severe that current treatments don’t work for them.
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Stories from people whose lives have been dramatically affected by asthma and who are backing the Lifeline appeal
Rebecca was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 15, at which point it was considered mild and under control. But since 2008, her condition has deteriorated rapidly and she has been admitted to hospital several times in recent years and had a number of "near misses".
She says: "It has had a massive impact on my life. Appearance wise I’ve gained a lot of weight which has deeply affected my confidence and financially I’ve also struggled as I’ve had to change job roles because I couldn’t cope doing night shifts and cut down my hours to part-time."
In 2011, Rebecca was put on Xolair and although her lung function improved initially she feels the effects have since plateaued – she is still on long-term oral steroids and has recently also been diagnosed with osteopenia and adrenal insufficiency.
She adds: "I’m very aware that Xolair doesn’t work for everybody and I believe there could be something out there more suited to me."
"Everybody remembers Malcolm as a positive, active little boy," says Claire. "He played tag rugby and was starting to enjoy cricket – I had to be taught all the ins and outs so I could help him practice bowling and fielding in the garden. All our photos show him with this huge beaming smile."
Malcolm died in 2003 at the age of 10 after what was, according to Claire, his first real asthma attack. The family had just returned from a holiday in Ireland.
"Throughout his life, Malcolm rarely had asthma symptoms and responded well to his treatment", Claire says. "His asthma seemed to be completely under control. I knew I needed to take him to the doctor if he was coughing more than usual, but nobody ever said anything about how bad it could be. Even my husband, who has asthma himself, didn’t know that asthma can kill someone so quickly and with no warning."
Malcolm had severe eczema in the first few years of his life, hay fever and often an itchy mouth after eating certain foods. This led Claire to believe that undiagnosed allergies of some kind may have triggered the attack that killed her son.
"Looking back I wish we’d been more proactive and pushy to get Malcolm referred to an allergy specialist," she adds. "Perhaps then things might be different now."
Losing a loved one to asthma is painful enough, but imagine having to go through the heartbreak twice. That’s exactly what happened to Caroline, who lost both her mother and brother following asthma attacks.
She says: “My mum had been dancing all night at a friend’s wedding. When she returned to her hotel room she asked my dad for a nebuliser because she was struggling to breathe, but by the time he’d got it ready she had collapsed. He tried to revive her but she was pronounced dead in the ambulance."
"My brother David died when he was just 27. He’d been battling with a bad chest so when I saw him lying on the bed after I’d gone into his room to use the computer I chose not to disturb him as I assumed he was sleeping it off. The next day, when we still hadn’t heard from him, my dad asked me to go and check on him and that’s when I noticed his body was completely purple. A post-mortem revealed he died of a rare type of flu which doctors said he would have been able to fight had it not beto fight had it not been for his asthma."
Ann and her husband Eric know first-hand how devastating asthma can be, having lost their first son, Russell, to an attack at the age of just five.
The 70-year-old says: "He hadn’t been very well so Eric took him up to the hospital. Next thing I knew a nurse had come to fetch me from home. I remember asking her if shf she thought he was going to be OK and she said, ‘I really don’t know’."
Russell was put on a life machine, but the next morning Ann and Eric received the heart-breaking news that it was going to be switched off.
"Both Eric and I reacted very differently to Russell’s death. I couldn’t bear to talk about it whereas Eric couldn’t stop telling people what had happened. It was difficult for us to understand how the other one was feeling."
It wasn’t until her 60th birthday that Ann was finally able to display photographs of Russell around the house.
She says: "It wasn’t easy but I told myself, ‘This is something I need to do now’.
"I also decided it was time to start talking about what happened to Russell. People need to be aware of just how serious asthma is. We’re not the only ones this has happened to and we’re not the only ones this will happen to, so people need to know."