Gaines Buggs RobinsonUAB students Jennifer Gaines, Quintoya Buggs, Areka Robinson“At first this was just a school assignment,” said Quintoya Buggs, senior Respiratory Therapy student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“But the kids were so energetic and excited to learn, that we just really had a good time,” she added.

Buggs was part of a group of RT students, including Areka Robinson and Jennifer Gaines, from the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences that spent a few days at the Western Area branch of the YMCA of Greater Birmingham teaching children from the Bessemer area how to better control their asthma.

The students made and decorated "traffic lights" for their asthma zone. Based on pre-determined figures from their physicians the kids could do their peak flow and know if they were good (green light) or needed to use an inhaler (yellow light). They even made their own mucous out of corn starch and water. Even though it inevitably led to a "mucous fight" they were able to understand the consistency of mucous in their lungs when they have an attack.

“What these children learned at one week of YMCA camp could very well impact the rest of their lives,” said Robin DeMonia, field organizer for Birmingham’s Script Your Future campaign which sponsored the event. “For UAB’s students, once they get in the workforce, they won’t have the benefit of spending days at a time with their patients. Working at this camp gives them an opportunity to know the children at the YMCA, learn about their lives and really see how they are affected by asthma. This kind of understanding will inform the rest of the students’ professional lives.”

There were two groups of YMCA kids – one ages 6 to 12 and the other 13 and older – and there was one goal: to learn more about the chronic lung disease affecting every day of their lives.

“Many of these kids have not had proper asthma education and neither have their parents,” said Buggs. “So we gave them information that they can take back home so they are all aware of how best to live with asthma.”

They explained asthma is spasms in the bronchi of their lungs. They let them know asthma triggers can be allergens, exercise and even their emotions. And they emphasized what to do when it flares: take medication, notify an adult and, if it’s an emergency, call 911.

“Asthma is one of the leading causes of death in young children so this is about getting the disease under control,” said Buggs. “If they know how to manage their asthma, how to recognize when their condition is deteriorating and how to react then that will prevent visits to the hospital or worse.”