Helping Children with Asthma Turn the Page

By Michelle Hopkins

The books help kids and adults understand what asthma is and how they can better control it.

(Above) Kristy High reads one of her and Mahaffey's books with student Mykal Gibson.

Did you know that 35,000 children in Hamilton County have asthma? The diagnosis can be a scary one with hard-to-grasp medical terms and devices like inhalers and spacers that you suddenly need to stay healthy. And if that’s not enough, there’s the feeling that you’re not normal, that you're different than others. For kids, it can be overwhelming.

Cincinnati Children’s health educators Kristy High and Jaime Mahaffey see that anxiety first-hand and on a daily basis in the asthma care clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Fairfield location. In 2017 they decided to step up and help make the road a little easier for children managing the disease.

It was, in part, High’s love of reading that helped inspire "Peter’s Perfect Pipes," a book about a child newly diagnosed with asthma and the challenges he faces learning to deal with his new way of life, including regular medication and monitoring his symptoms.

“Kids are super-excited when we give them the book. It helps them understand asthma so much better than just giving them a piece of paper or talking at them. We use the books in clinic. The book helps them to understand there’s nothing to be afraid of and assures them that they’re just like any other kid. There’s just something different that they have to do to stay healthy,” said High.

It was important to High and Mahaffey to create a book that is kid-friendly with brightly colored pictures and a prominent display of children of color. “A lot of kids can connect with a book, and in the pictures they see a child that looks similar to them so they can relate.”

South Avondale Elementary received about 30 copies of the book, donated by High and Mahaffey to make sure students who go to the school-based health center for asthma treatments also get a dose of positivity.

Mykal Gibson is a 6th grader with asthma at South Avondale. “It relates to me in a lot of ways. It’s important for me to look at it every day and know that I’m not alone.”

"Peter’s Perfect Pipes" also gets the stamp of approval from teachers like Monique Bush. “The more they read it, the more they understand what’s going on with their asthma. There’s a lot of stuff kids don’t know, like how they can manage it. The book actually empowers them,” Bush said.

Beyond students, High says adults also find the book beneficial. “Parents have contacted us and said they have even learned from the book things that they didn’t understand during their visit.”

"Peter’s Perfect Pipes" is getting noticed at several children’s hospitals across the country. High and Mahaffey have been invited to visit hospitals in Texas and St. Louis to share the book and their story of why they decided to write it.

Another huge vote of confidence has come from the Virginia-based Asthma and Allergy Network and CEO, Tonya Winders. She says the book has it all. “it's medically accurate, patient-friendly, and it's culturally competent. This is a perfect resource for any child, but especially those living in underserved communities who need to connect to children who look like them” she said.

The Asthma and Allergy Network is made up of two million members across the country. Since 2017, it has distributed more than 8,000 books to healthcare professionals, patient families and schools in cities, including Orlando, Los Angeles, New York City and Dallas. The network has placed another larger order for the book to be distributed this year.

Kristy High and Jaime Mahaffey have collaborated on writing books for and about kids with asthma.

Asthma Facts and Figures

  • Asthma affects 25 million people including 6 million children under age 18; therefore, it is a significant health and economic burden to patients, their families, and society.
  • Cincinnati’s asthma rate is more than twice the national average
  • In some neighborhoods, the asthma hospitalization rate is 10 times the national average
  • Avondale has a hospitalization rate in excess of 16 hospitalizations per 1000 children per year
  • Our geography, with its low-lying hills that trap smog, contributes to the problem

Asthma Center at Cincinnati Children's

  • 5,500 children with asthma served annually
  • 200 children followed with difficult-to-treat/ severe asthma

“We were very surprised. We knew we loved the book, but for other people to say, 'we want that book for our hospital or our clinic,' its’ amazing,” said High.

High and her co-author see other opportunities to make a difference by creating even more children’s books. “We decided to take on a big health issue affecting minority children: sickle cell disease. One in 13 African-American babies is born with the sickle cell trait.

“We both are personally connected to children who are living with sickle cell disease. We’ve seen the struggles that they go through, the emotional and social toll it takes on them. The disease itself is enough but then you add on the social and emotional challenges that come with it--it needs to be addressed in a similar way that we did with asthma,” said High.

Look to hear more from High and Mahaffey. Both are ready to help more kids turn the page on health diseases, with messages that educate, entertain and empower them.

Kristy High (left) gets a hug from Monique Bush, a teacher at South Avondale school.

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