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Living with severe asthma is a full-time job

03/04/2019 Donna Matlach, severe asthma patient

My battle with severe asthma started with a chronic cough almost ten years ago, which, despite several rounds of antibiotics to treat conditions like bronchitis, never cleared up. Instead, it got worse. After months of tests, my doctor made the diagnosis.

 

I suffered from asthma as a child, but my condition went away in my teenage years. Now, as a middle-aged adult, it came back with a vengeance. I tried the usual treatment—a mix of inhalers and anti-inflammatory medicines—for a few months, but I continued to cough and wheeze. Over time, my bouts of troubled breathing went from occurring every four hours, to every two hours, to every 60 minutes.

 

Eventually, things got so bad I couldn’t even bend over for fear of an attack. My asthma was so uncontrolled that I spent days at a time in a hospital because my husband and I couldn’t manage it at home. For five years, we lived like this, visiting doctor after doctor in search of solutions.

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Donna Matlach
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Everything during those years stopped. I like to compare my asthma to a firecracker—sometimes you light it and it fizzles out; sometimes it explodes. This complete unpredictability meant no vacations, no running around with my grandchildren, no going out dancing with my husband. All I wanted was a chance at a semi-normal life, and at that point, I was willing to try anything.

 

That’s when I realized that my asthma was different. It was more severe. I talked with my doctor and we developed a treatment plan to help get the symptoms under control. Finally, things began to get better.

 

With the help of my doctor, that treatment plan is still working for me today. An attack is a constant risk, so I always have my medications by my side. I’m training a puppy to become a full-time service dog. I moved away from my home state of New York to Arizona to avoid the cold air that can be a trigger for a flare-up.

Living with severe asthma is a full-time job, and it has impacted nearly every area of my life. But I view it as my job to take care of myself so I can be around for my family.

What I tell other patients is that I have severe asthma, but asthma does not define who I am—and it doesn’t define the life of any patient like me either. During the worst part of my battle with severe asthma, I never gave up on myself or finding better answers. Asthma is often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and several doctors told me that my symptoms were all in my head. I refused to accept that explanation, and after years of fighting, I finally got the answers I needed. 

 

In a similar way, the scientists behind today’s most advanced treatments for asthma have refused to give up on finding new and better medicines to help me and other patients like me. I’m here today because of their fighting spirit, and I owe my life to them.