"A new treatment for severe asthma means I can keep doing the job I love"

After 36 years struggling with severe asthma, part-time midwife and mum-of-two, Jane Farmilo, says a new drug has changed her life.

Jane Farmiloe“Having severe asthma has affected my life in numerous ways. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband, and wonderfully understanding children. But when Edward and Tom were little I couldn’t read them long bedtime stories as it would make me wheeze. And there were lots of activities, such as cycling and running, I couldn’t do. The boys often had to fetch items from upstairs because they knew if I did I’d be wheezing and coughing for ages afterwards.

I was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 15

“I don’t remember at what point I was classed as having severe asthma, but I’ve been seeing respiratory consultants since I was about 20. So for years now I’ve taken seemingly endless courses of steroid tablets, asthma inhalers and other tablets.

“Despite my best efforts to manage my asthma well, my symptoms got a lot worse over the years. I often became exhausted at work as a midwife and had to go straight to bed when I got home. On my days off, I’d spend all my time getting better for my next shifts.

Staying active wasn’t easy as I’d get incredibly wheezy. At my worst, I couldn’t even walk to the end of the garden. Using my nebuliser at home was hard: it was frustrating having to sit still and inhale nebulised steroid sprays and antibiotics for 30 minutes twice a day.

Getting a new diagnosis was a turning point

“In April 2017 I was diagnosed with severe non-allergic eosinophilic asthma: eosinophils are immune cells that invade your lungs and cause inflammation, which results in wheezing. Although it was a difficult diagnosis to accept, the news was cushioned by the knowledge there was a chance of a new treatment.

“When my consultant told me about a new asthma drug called mepolizumab, an antibody treatment that targets eosinophils, I nearly cried with relief at the thought there might be something that could help me feel better.

The new drug isn’t suitable for everyone

“Before I could be allowed to try mepolizumab, I had to get a letter from my GP stating how many doses of steroids I had taken in the past year - I’d had at least 12 so that was eight more than the minimum of four courses needed to qualify. Also I needed a blood test to confirm that my eosinophil levels were high enough to justify being treated with a drug as expensive as mepolizumab. Luckily they were.

“When I had my first monthly injection. I had to wait in the hospital for two hours afterwards to see if there were any side effects, but thankfully there were none. Although I’ve only had three injections so far, the change has been dramatic. I still use steroid inhalers and some other tablets in addition to mepolizumab, but I no longer need to use a nebuliser. I am aiming to come off my steroid tablets completely.

I’ve got a brand new lease of life

“Just two weeks after the first injection I could climb hills in the Peak District whereas before I couldn’t even walk to the end of the garden. After just three injections, instead of contemplating taking early retirement from the midwifery job I love, I’m actually thinking about increasing the number of hours I do.

“My husband Nick now jokes that when we’re in the supermarket he can no longer tell where I am because I’m not coughing all the time! I feel better than I’ve felt in years. This treatment really has transformed my life.” 

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