Clean up our air to ease asthma

NNaserri Carew-Johnson and her mother, Vicki, live in Atlanta.

I am 16 years old. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was four years old. Since then, my life hasn’t been the same. Asthma causes my airways to become inflamed, narrow and produce extra mucus. My airways are different from other individuals because the inflammation makes the air that passes through my airways scarce. Because of this, my chest often tightens when I’m active and I have to take multiple breaks. I am always aware that I have asthma and need to monitor my activities.

My favorite sports are track and tennis and I love spending time outdoors. The adrenaline and family vibe from running and hitting that yellow ball and my everlasting curiosity to travel and explore our beautiful world, make me work harder regardless of my asthma, because it’s no excuse. Striving for excellence doesn’t afford me to sit out and whine.

Initially, it really bothered me when my coaches felt I was dragging and I was scared that I might not make the track team. I have learned how to pace myself and let my coaches know how asthma affects me. They cut me some slack when I’m in distress, but I never take it for granted. I know I’m capable and that they’re counting on me.

With the help of my mom, I’ve learned what triggers my asthma attacks. Many of them, like drinking milk, I can control by avoiding them. However, for a few of the causes like air pollution, I can’t. My mom checks air quality levels daily and on days that are really hot, there is usually more ozone. I’ve learned that when there is more ozone in the air, my asthma is much worse and I have to be extremely careful. When we travel, mom always plans our activities based on the air quality in those states and countries so that I can be safe and have a great experience.

To protect myself, I carry two inhalers at all times in case I have an attack. My inhalers are an extension of me. If it wasn’t for my self-control and my inhalers, my body would be pretty messed up and I’d be in danger. I am still a teenager who wants to be as normal as possible so, at times, I have taken my inhalers late and had to temporarily sit things out. When my asthma affects me, I become extremely lightheaded, my chest feels tight and, in extreme cases, I gasp for air.

I’m confident of what I can do and know my limits. That wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, I felt different because of my asthma. Five years ago, I attended Camp Breathe Easy, a weeklong overnight camp for kids with asthma, and my perspective changed completely. We learned we can do anything other kids can. That inspired me.

Last summer and this summer, I returned as a leader-in-training, assisting counselors to make the camp experience safe, healthy and fun for younger children. Because the camp truly changed my life, it is important for me to share my knowledge and help raise awareness about air pollution and how it affects me and other kids with asthma.

Having asthma has made me determined and motivated to help others to not have to deal with what I’ve had to. I want to fight for myself and other kids with asthma so that we can play outdoors on a summer day. I want to be able to run track and play tennis. I don’t want our moms to risk jail time, like my mom did, because we miss a lot of days from school. I want kids to realize their capabilities like I have. To do so, we need to be able to breathe clean air every day. Adults have to be willing to do what’s right and tell our nation’s leaders that we need to clean up our air.