A Journey with Asthma, One Family’s Story

Every parent knows the feeling of helplessness and worry when their child is sick. Sleepless nights are consumed by the checking and re-checking of symptoms. It is an out of control feeling coupled with concern and anxiety. An asthma diagnosis can amplify those emotions.

According to Children’s Mercy’s website, “Asthma is one of the most common long-term illnesses in children. An average of one of every 12 school-aged children has asthma, and the illness accounts for a cumulative 13 million missed school days per year. It is also the third-most common reason children under 15 go to the hospital.”

Those are some impactful numbers, and it’s one Sherita Neal and her daughter Jelise, know all too well.

As a young child, Jelise battled allergies, eczema and colds. After multiple trips to the Children’s Mercy ER for coughing, trouble breathing and finally pneumonia, she received a definitive diagnosis of asthma at age three. Although a relief to have answers, the work was just beginning for their family. Sherita noted, “Once Jelise had pneumonia we finally knew what was causing all the breathing and coughing fits. We were able to work with the ER doctors, nurses, pulmonology, and asthma and allergy clinics to get Jelise the adequate treatment she needed.”

Jelise, now 20, is a thriving young woman!

Thanks to those professionals, Jelise now has a playbook of how to safely manage her asthma and the symptoms that accompany it. Through testing, she learned she has allergic and exercise induced asthma, meaning she is sensitive to pollens and other allergens, high humidity, cold or dry air, physical exercise and pet dander. With an extensive list of common and natural triggers, accommodations must be made in most everyday activities, a reality which can be difficult for a child!

When it comes to treatment, Sherita and doctors at Children’s Mercy also developed a three-tiered action plan when triggers arise. Green zone is the first, and is recorded when Jelise is breathing well without coughing or wheezing. She enters the yellow zone when signs of a cold, coughing and headaches arise. The most serious, red zone, is when medication intervention is not working, fast breathing occurs and she cannot talk. Entering this zone requires a trip to the hospital for treatment. Jelise must also carry an EpiPen and inhaler with her at all times for precautionary measures.

Such a plan is an integral part of keeping her safe and healthy. According to Children’s Mercy’s website, an individualized action plan is tailored to each child’s need. This helps direct parents on the severity of symptoms and the treatment indicated for each stage.

Sherita has solid advice for parents who might be struggling with a diagnosis or wondering if their child could be asthmatic. “I was at a complete loss on what to do before we knew Jelise had asthma. The thing that helped me was a notebook! I know that seems silly, but it was a great tool for information. I tracked when she was sick, her symptoms, the weather, what I fed her, who was sick around her, and anything else I could think to be helpful.”

“I was able to advocate by having up-to-date information on her condition to share with her doctors. The more info they had the better they knew how to treat her. I would say the best way to advocate is to be constant and do your research.”

Thanks to a supportive family, Jelise has a tremendous team in her corner when tough days arise. During her school-aged years she sometimes felt like an outsider having to always carry an inhaler or missing days due to her condition.

Sherita noted, “We made sure Jelise knew this does not change who she is as a person, and we loved and supported her just the same. We worked together as a family and with the help of her doctors, found a manageable plan. Now, Jelise is 20 years old, and she has become very secure in having asthma. She does not allow that to stop her from continuing her plans.”

Sherita and Jelise want others in their situation to feel empowered to become partners with their health care providers.

“It’s a lesson that Children’s Mercy taught me, and I’m grateful for that,” Sherita said.

She reiterated the compassion and knowledge from nurses and doctors is what made the diagnosis, treatment and long-term planning a more manageable process. She knew they always had someone in their corner, allowing them to feel reassured in an uncertain time.


For additional resources or to learn more about the Children’s Mercy Asthma team, visit childrensmercy.org/asthma.
Kristin Ruthstrom
Kristin is a Lee’s Summit suburb transplant, after living in the Brookside and Plaza areas for over eight years. Raising three young boys with her husband, Jake, has helped her to embrace the messy, wild side of life where love is expressed in bear hugs and body slams. Professionally, she can be found teaching classes as an adjunct professor in the areas of Business, Marketing and PR. She is able to provide her students with applicable, real-life knowledge as she draws from several years working in the corporate sector. “Free time” (ha!, what's that again?) is spent on an occasional date night to favorite local restaurants, reading blogs on everything from home design to politics, riding her sweet beach cruiser bike and thinking of ways to convince her husband to do yet another home improvement project.