…but not in a way he and his family would have expected. The 16-year-old football player and son of Ickey Woods, a former Cincinnati Bengals player, died of asthma last week. We posted the story on Facebook and have been following the many news stories. I as reading one in Black Voices on Sports by Boyce Watkins, PhD. At the end, he added thoughtful commentary:
"The death of Elbert Jovante Woods makes me wonder just how safe our young men and women are when playing high school sports. I can remember competing in track and field, where it was common for athletes to vomit after practice, become short of breath and even work out to the point of nearly collapsing. Most of us defined this stress to simply be a part of getting into shape, but I've always wondered whether most coaches are equipped to know when a hard workout has become a health hazard.
How do we know the difference between a kid who's simply whining about a tough practice vs. one who is actually experiencing serious physical problems? I honestly don't know the answer to this question, but it is certainly something to think about."
Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics is concerned, too. It’s not that we think people intend to reject good safety measures (they don’t) but primarily because asthma is an insidious and deceptive disease in which early perception, recognition and response are critically important and easy to miss.
Most asthma deaths can be traced to preventable causes (yes, causes, plural -- as in, more than one, otherwise known as a perfect storm). For example, was Jovante’s inhaler empty? Few people ask this question and even fewer know that inhalers run out of medication before they run out of the propellant. So the inhaler doesn’t feel empty when, in reality, it is. That's why our organization successfully lobbied the FDA to advise manufacturers to place dose counters on metered-dose inhalers; this technology is currently being phased in.
Another mistake comes with being young and invincible and thinking that you haven't pushed yourself hard enough unless you're breathless or throwing up on the football practice field. These long-held stoic but faulty beliefs put our young athletes at risk of fatal respiratory, cardiac and neurologic events.
Each fatal asthma attack can teach all of us something if we pause and honestly explore what went into that perfect storm that brewed silently hours, days and even weeks before. Easily said and terrifying to do -- which is exactly why it doesn’t often happen. While it may have been one event that pushed Jovante over the edge, it was not just one event that got him there. This is true for anyone who dies of asthma.
AANMA is on a mission to eliminate asthma death and suffering, and to ensure that every child and adult receives asthma care consistent with National Institutes of Health Asthma Guidelines. AANMA’s Great American Asthma Challenge asks every person to do their part. It’s easier than you think to bring our nation to zero asthma deaths and improve quality of life along the way! All it takes is one person, family and community at a time taking simple steps together.
AANMA and the newly formed Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus will meet to examine life-and-death asthma issues and ways to ensure that all children and adults with asthma know what to expect and how to obtain appropriate care and written strategies that work for each everyone.
In addition, we recently developed and conducted Express Seminars on Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm for School Nurses at the National Association of School Nurses annual conference, sponsored by Teva Respiratory. In coming weeks, a highlights video and resource materials will be posted on AANMA's YouTube channel.
We're also forming a coalition of school nurses, coaches, parents, physicians, teachers and school administrators to define evidence-based best practices for recognizing and treating serious respiratory issues relative to sports- and school-based exercise programs.
Finally, a shout-out to Chris Draft, Anthony Armstrong and Adam Carriker of the Washington Redskins! All three have asthma, and Anthony caught and carried the first touchdown of the season! Yes, I know it's "only" the preseason, but for diehard fans like me, the season is ON! Winning over asthma is very much like winning a football game: You have got to know where the goal is and have an executable plan that's going to get you there. No one does it alone - it takes a team.
Dr. Watkins, thank you for asking the right question. Now let’s look for the right answers. Jovante's death is not in vain if we learn something from it. May God grant peace to those who love Jovante, and may their hearts be filled with fond memories that never fade.
President and Founder
Allergy & Asthma Network
Mothers of Asthmatics