Vicky Rowe: The Asthma UK Helpline changed my life

The Asthma UK Helpline wasn’t around to save my sister.
Together we can make sure it's always there for the people we love.

Recently, my six-year-old son Oscar was diagnosed with asthma. I wasn’t much older than he is now when my big sister Rebecca – who I idolised – died from an asthma attack. She was only 15 years old. A teenager with her whole life ahead of her.

As you can imagine, it’s a constant worry to me that my little boy has to live with the condition that killed my sister. Thankfully the Asthma UK Helpline was there to help my little boy and I want to make sure that those nurses are always there to speak to the thousands of families like mine they help every year.

I was eight years old when Becky had her fatal asthma attack. To me she was the most wonderful, exciting older sister you could wish for. We were always singing Madonna songs and playing the piano together. Becky’s death tore the family apart. My mum was so devastated she couldn’t even bear to have the photos of her around the house.

Only weeks after Becky’s death, I suddenly developed asthma myself and it came on with a real vengeance. I was horse riding when I started coughing uncontrollably; I went purple in the face and was rushed to A&E. Its timing was cruel; there was a sudden anxiety over my asthma to add to my grief. After her death, my mum was terrified of losing me to asthma too. Back then, Asthma UK didn’t have a Helpline to advise people like my mum about our asthma.

As a baby, Oscar used to cough uncontrollably and, as he got older, his symptoms only got worse. For me all the signs were there – he was going to have asthma too.

When Oscar started school, we seemed to have a constant battle to make sure they understood that his asthma had to be taken seriously. Whilst the other kids pelted around the playground, Oscar would ask me why he couldn’t run with them – it was heartbreaking to see him so alone. Scared for my little boy, I finally called the Asthma UK Helpline, where I spoke with a nurse called Helen.

That’s when my life changed forever; rather than making me feel like a hysterical mum, Helen knew at once what I was going through. She listened patiently while I spoke about Oscar being stuck in a terrifying cycle of asthma attacks, chest infections and antibiotics.

Helen told me how important it was to protect Oscar’s lungs in winter as well as in summer. I found out about new ways of using steroid treatment more effectively. She also gave me the confidence to speak openly with our doctor. Helen then said ‘Now let’s talk about you’. 

I told her about Becky, my asthma history and my years of not wanting to accept I had the condition. She understood completely. From learning about managing Oscar’s asthma, I finally started to take asthma seriously myself! Now I no longer have constant chest infections and Oscar is able to run about with his friends.

The Asthma UK Helpline doesn’t receive any government funding and I want to shout from the rooftops how lucky we are in this country to have this service! Nurses like Helen are life changers and life savers, and so please donate today to ensure they can be there for children like Oscar, mums like me, and the thousands of others living with asthma, both today and in the future.

Vicky x