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  • Heather Henry

Defeating the Wheeze Monsters


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I was in Tesco choosing a birthday card for my friend when I heard a child singing the alphabet beside me: ABC..DEFG.. HIJKLM… And I thought, maybe we should share health knowledge this way, through memorable rhymes, stories and games.


Having asthma as a child can affect your life chances. Children may feel stigma, they may feel like victims and they may lack confidence. They may miss school and do less well educationally. I know, because I was that child.


Families also express anxiety that they don't always know how to help. They lose sleep, they miss work and they can be over-protective. Schools and community groups likewise worry about their children with asthma, with child asthma deaths still occurring in the community - every one a tragedy that can never be forgotten.


I started BreathChamps CIC with about 30 parents and children at a community Halloween Party in a challenging part of Salford. I reckoned if my ideas worked there it would work anywhere. I had a wolf glove puppet and sang ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ at the top of my voice. And the children joined in and helped the wolf (who had asthma) when he couldn't blow down the house of straw for coughing. Most knew a child with asthma and correctly identified that he needed a blue inhaler to stop him coughing. Children fell over themselves to give the wolf his inhaler correctly through a spacer, in front of everyone.


Then we added the missing preventer when his air passages were so inflamed that couldn't blow down the house of sticks – more inhaler technique practice followed. And then he had an acute asthma attack after inhaling smoke when climbing down the chimney in the house of bricks. The parents and children learned that they needed to call an ambulance and give the Big Bad Wolf ten puffs of reliever inhaler, whilst sitting him up and keeping him calm.


I see children's asthma as a family and community issue, where people can learn from each other not just from doctors or nurses, in fun ways. BreathChamps' ideas have been co-produced with families and communities, so tools make sense to them. Group consultations in general practice become 'asthma parties'. Whole schools learn in their assemblies how 9-year-old Captain Fearless defeats the Wheeze Monster using just her inhalers, her spacer and her magic goggles. There is plenty of dressing up and laughter. Children with asthma, who are the heroes of the story, not the victims, grow up with less fear and anxiety and achieve more.


My aim is for BreathChamps to become a social movement, where stories are passed around and in so doing our children are kept safe by the whole community. I believe in the pester power of children: to date, over 300 Brownies, Scouts, Cubs, Rainbows and Guides in Greater Manchester have completed their ‘Asthma Challenge Badge’ and I invite them to join my nursing team and fight the Wheeze Monsters - and fight they do: An 11 year old in Sale alerted adults when her friend had an asthma attack in the playground. A 7 year Brownie in Ashton on Mersey successfully recognised that her father was having an asthma attack, called an ambulance for him by hacking his mobile phone (!) and helped him to take his blue reliever inhaler. When the paramedics arrived, he was checked over and didn't need to go to hospital.


The BreathChamps' philosophy can be replicated in other clinical areas. It's about clinicians giving away our knowledge to communities in ways they will remember, enjoy and understand. People can add in their own tips and tricks, so we value their expertise as patients and carers.


A social approach to managing long term conditions can raise people’s levels of control, give them contact so they don't feel so alone with their condition and raise their confidence – what I term the 3 Cs of health creation.


If you’re interested in receiving a pack of asthma – themed games, crafts and stories to share within your communities, contact me on heather.henry@brightnessmanagement.org.uk

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