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City program working to decrease number of child ER visits due to asthma

SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County has the most children in Texas going to the emergency room because of asthma. Now, a free program is aiming to decrease the number of cases.

Rebekka Hernandez, 11, has been to the emergency room more than a dozen times since she was 6 months old because of asthma.

“My chest feels really tight and I can't breathe. It hurts to breath and I just can't,” she said.

Rebekka’s mother said it's always scary when her daughter is having an asthma attack. She said it's frustrating that she can't help her daughter.

“Muy preocupada. Muy frustada,” said Karma Arevalo, Rebekka’s mother, meaning she’s very worried and frustrated.

A 2016 report showed that Bexar County had 733 children with asthma discharged from hospitals. In April, the Metropolitan Health District started the free program SA Kids BREATHE with the goal of decreasing that statistic.

Paul Kloppe, a registered respiratory therapist, is one of the community health workers who makes house visits for the program. He believes the high number of children with asthma in Bexar County isn't necessarily a geography or allergy problem but rather a lack of education.

“The challenge we always will have is trying to get individuals to use these devices, get an understanding about what causes their asthma to get going and how they respond to it,” Kloppe said.

During their time in the program, education and support is provided for children ages 3-17 years old. Five to six visits are made to participating families’ homes over a six-month period.

Home assessments are used to identify asthma triggers such as mold, dust or animal hair. Kloppe teaches children how and when to properly use their medication.

“You get all these little types of inhalers and devices, powders and mist, and so it gets confusing for families,” Kloppe said.

Children can be referred to the program if they have been to the hospital or urgent care in the past year, have been to the school nurse twice or have missed several days of school because of asthma.

Tuesday was Rebekka's third visit since she started the program in May. She said she no longer has coughing attacks at night and hasn't had to go to the ER since she started SA Kids BREATHE.

Community health workers with the program say keeping children indoors when certain allergens are high or on ozone action days can help prevent asthma attacks.

The program currently has had 50 children referred to it.


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