What springs to mind when you think of asthma?
A bit of wheezing here, a puff of an inhaler there? A condition that’s ‘not that serious’?
Well, when I think of asthma, I think of my beautiful son Tiernan. I think of him fighting for breath, his lips turning blue, as I desperately gave him CPR on the lounge floor. I think of the way he told me: ‘Mum, I’m going to die tonight’, as he appeared at my bedroom door having an asthma attack, just minutes before he collapsed. And I think of the gaping hole my fun-loving, selfless, football-mad son left in our lives when he died from an asthma attack in January last year, aged just 20.
You see, this World Asthma Day, I want to share the story about my son Tiernan to show that asthma is serious and how important it is that charities like Asthma UK get funding so they can continue their research to find a cure for asthma.
Tiernan had had asthma since he was very young, but we didn’t think it was that bad. He took his blue reliever inhaler when he felt wheezy but never touched his brown preventer inhaler, which would have helped to control his asthma symptoms. Preventer inhalers help to reduce any underlying inflammation in the airways, meaning they are less likely to react to asthma triggers over time. After we lost him, we were told that he had taken his reliever inhaler more than 30 times on the day of his death. To put this in perspective, most people with asthma shouldn’t be taking their reliever inhaler more than three times in a week.
It was January last year when Tiernan came to my bedroom door in the middle of the night, gasping for breath and terrified. He was pale, his lips and ears had turned blue and although he was taking his blue reliever inhaler, it wasn’t helping. I immediately called for an ambulance and was on the phone when he turned to me and said: “Mum, I’m going to die tonight”.
I’ll never forget him standing there like that. It was the most frightening moment of my life.
Minutes later, Tiernan collapsed in my husband Stephen’s arms and stopped breathing. I started to give him CPR while my daughter Mise-Eire, who was 18 at the time, continued to talk to the paramedics. Despite my desperate attempts he just completely deteriorated in front of our eyes.
The paramedics arrived a few minutes later and took over. They put a heart monitor on him and IV drips and were working on him for about an hour.
I could see that the life had drained from my Tiernan, but completely frantic and in total shock, I tried to take over the CPR from the paramedics. I knew they had done everything they possibly could, but I couldn’t just give up on my son, I had to try everything to keep him with us, even though I knew in my heart that he was already gone.
Tiernan was quiet but he was caring and lived life to the full. We didn’t realise just how popular he was until after he’d gone, but he’d clearly left an impression with a huge number of people. He meant the absolute world to Stephen and I, and the pain and incredible hole his death has left in our family is completely overwhelming. You can’t begin put the loss of a child into words.
The most upsetting thing for us is that Tiernan’s death was probably preventable.
We will never know for sure, but I am convinced that if Tiernan had been taking his preventer medication properly, he would still be with us today. It’s extremely distressing, but this is the reality for many people who have lost a loved one to asthma.
Around three people die from asthma each day, according to charity Asthma UK, which offers health advice and funds research into a cure for asthma. And a staggering two thirds of asthma deaths in the UK are preventable like Tiernan’s.
Shockingly, new figures today from Asthma UK have revealed that the UK has one of the worst asthma death rates in the whole of Europe, and that the rate of people dying from an asthma attack has actually increased by 20% in the last five years. It’s just not good enough.
Everyone needs to play their part this World Asthma Day to help prevent deaths from asthma attacks. Doctors and nurses need to give asthma patients the care they need. People with asthma also need to help themselves and make sure they take their asthma seriously, see their asthma nurse and take their medications properly.
That’s the reason I am so passionate about working with Asthma UK and getting Tiernan’s story out there. As a mum, I don’t think I realised just how important it was that people with asthma take the right medication at the right time and it’s so important that other parents know. As someone who has lost a child to an asthma attack, I don’t want any other parent to go through what we have. I don’t want my boy to have died in vain.
There are 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK, and if my talking about my son’s death saves just one person from losing their life, or stops one parent losing their child, then that will be worth it for me. I’m begging everyone to please, take asthma seriously. You never think you’ll lose a loved one to asthma until it’s too late.
Asthma UK is a charity which provides advice and guidance to people with the asthma through its website and nurse-staffed telephone helpline, and funds research into a cure for asthma. Support people with asthma this World Asthma Day at www.asthma.org.uk/donate