Harbour Grace family raising asthma awareness

Melissa Jenkins
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Local family wants parents to seek detailed information when dealing with asthma

Part two in a two-part series: The Verge family in Harbour Grace went through a horrible ordeal.

Submitted photo by Robert Thornhill
Matthew Verge is the Janeway Champion child for 2016. He survived a
severe asthma attack in May 2014.

In May 2014, eight-year-old Matthew had a spasm in his lungs and stopped breathing. He is asthmatic.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways, which can cause issues breathing, leading to wheezing, coughing, tightening of the chest, perspiration and many other symptoms.

The normally energetic boy turned blue and lost consciousness, but with the help of his sisters and grandmother, they kept him breathing long enough for the ambulance to arrive.

After being airlifted to the Janeway, he continued to hold on each day. After a week in a coma, he woke up with no lasting health-related issues from oxygen deprivation.

Matthew has been named the Children’s Miracle Network champion child for Newfoundland and Labrador. He and his family will go to Toronto and Florida later this winter.

But it’s what followed Matthew’s health scare that left the biggest mark on the Verge family.

Learning about asthma

Matthew — now 10 — and sister Emily, who is 12, had both been diagnosed asthmatic prior to the incident. Since then, youngest sister Alyssa, eight, has also been diagnosed. Taylor, the Verge’s 15-year-old daughter, is the only sibling that doesn’t have asthma.

The Asthma Society of Canada website notes that some 250 Canadians will die from asthma each year. Luckily Matthew didn’t become part of that statistic.

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'Harbour Grace boy a miracle child'

After Matthew’s stay at the Janeway, mom Christina and dad Paul began taking him to an asthma specialist.

It was then they realized that what they had known about the illness their children had was minimal.

“We don’t want someone else to go through it,” Christina said during a Compass visit to the Verge home.

They decided to speak out as a group because it was almost losing Matthew that allowed them to get to know exactly how asthma works and what they could do to help their children.

“When (Alyssa’s) asthma acts up a little bit more, we’d bump up her medication a little bit,” Christina continued.

The family follows the directions of the physician, and confirmed the meds can be adjusted accordingly. Matthew and Alyssa see the same specialist.

For Paul it’s about advocating for your children, something many parents don’t realize they should do when their child has asthma.

Christina wants more information readily available, but also for parents to get educated on the illness.

“Parents stop giving (their child) a steroid when they’re feeling better,” she said. “Which you shouldn’t do.”

Life has changed

For the Verges, life has changed since Matthew’s attack. In fact, they are very cautious to keep stuffed animals and scented products out of the house because they can be triggers for attacks.

And with three children with respiratory issues, it’s important for all family members to be prepared if anything happens. Each member of the family is now informed of how their treatments work and what to do in case of an attack.

Each person’s experience with asthma is different, so the specifics to each case are not the same. So every treatment is personalized to each patient.

“What happened to Matthew could happen to anyone out there with asthma,” Paul explained.

Christina agreed, noting they were completely blindsided when Matthew stopped breathing. The thought their son could die from an asthma attack was never in their minds.

The Asthma Society of Canada offers a print out for patients with asthma to bring to their doctor to create an action plan to help when symptoms persist. It’s helpful for those who might not remember what to do in certain situations, but also to allow others to help in case of an emergency.

The Verges have discussed their own options with the specialist, and have a better handle on how to treat certain types of attacks when they happen. Paul says because they have a grasp on their children’s conditions now, they are much more at ease.

The family is hoping to organize a walk in aid of asthma research in May, to correspond with World Asthma Day. It will also be the two-year anniversary of Matthew’s attack.

“We want to raise awareness, because there’s plenty out there (locally for other organizations), but nothing for asthma,” Paul said.

Matthew will be celebrated as the champion child for the Children’s Miracle Network on Friday, Feb. 5 at Walmart in Carbonear.

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc

Organizations: Janeway, Asthma Society of Canada, Walmart

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Toronto, Florida

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