Astoria resident Nadine Clark had her fair share of late night trips to the emergency room when her 13 year old and 8 year old granddaughters were younger.
The two sisters, Fetima Martin, the oldest, and Deasia Purvis were diagnosed with chronic asthma not long after birth. Clark still remembers trying to comfort baby Fetima when she would suffer severe attacks and gasp for air.
“It would scare the daylights out of us,” Clark explained.
Throughout the years, the disease has been much easier on the girls. Fetima keeps an inhaler as a precaution and Deasia only suffers periodic tightness in her chest. However, Clark wants to do all she can to make life more comfortable for her grandchildren while they live in her 27th Avenue home— a four bedroom apartment located near bus stops, congested roads, factories and LaGuardia Airport.
The state Department of Health estimates that over one million adults and children in New York are presently diagnosed with asthma, and the city leads in childhood hospitalization for the disease.
According to the Citizens Aviation Watch Association (www.us caw.org), a public advocacy group that focuses on the air transport industry, residents who live “many miles” from an airport are still exposed to “hazardous and toxic air emissions.”
Unlike the outside elements, Clark knew she had some control in changing her indoor environment. Her first step in this change was getting help from the LaGuardia Community College Environmental Asthma Assessment and Prevention Project.
The federally funded project, which consists of free in home assessments and prevention education by the college’s Health Allied students and community volunteers, was created to help educate families on how to reduce asthma triggers.
“It is designed to look at the environment in the home setting,” said Rosely Octaviano, professor of nursing who is directing the project at the college.
Clark’s in home assessment providers, nursing students and trained master home environmentalists Lizett La Croix Serrette and Laura Penalo, visited Saturday afternoon to evaluate the Astoria apartment.
“The main areas we look for are the kitchen, bathroom, the child’s bedroom or the adult’s room,” Penalo said. “That’s where we look for triggers.”
After approximately five minutes assessing the rooms, La Croix Serrette and Penalo informed Clark of the most common trigger to overcome: dust.
“A pinch of dust carries hundreds of dust mites,” said La Croix Serrette, adding that the tiny creatures can cause a lot of problems with airways.
The students stressed for Clark to use pillow cases and mattress covers that have an allergy protective casing to reduce dust mite infestation and to wash sheets, blankets and other fabrics in hot water. To maintain rugs and carpeted areas, La Croix Serrette suggested cleaning with a HEPA filter vacuum and implementing a “no shoes” policy in the apartment. The students gave the same instructions to Clark’s family friend, Shary Rincon, an asthma sufferer who was visiting Saturday from Englewood, N.J.
Other asthma prevention strategies the students mentioned included diluting cleaning products to reduce the inhalation of dangerous chemicals; wearing surgical masks when cleaning; and ventilating the bathroom after showering to reduce mold. La Croix Serrette also suggested finding another home for the family cat, Missy, considering its saliva and hairs can affect asthma sufferers.
“I thought I knew something (about asthma prevention),” Clark said. “I was so enlightened.”
The three year project began in the fall of 2005, after college faculty members brainstormed the idea to address the ongoing health problem in New York City. The college is using a $248,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to help families in Parkchester, the Bronx and neighborhoods in Queens.
Around 48 students and health professionals in the community—all trained for in home visits by the Health and Hospitals Corporation Asthma Task Force in New York City—have helped 100 children and adults with asthma since the project started. Along with assessing the home and providing prevention strategies, participants supply families with a free asthma kit that includes asthma literature (in English and Spanish), an instructional video and other prevention tools.
As part of the project’s research, families will be given a follow up assessment six months after the first visit to see if the program made a difference, Octaviano said.
The college’s goal is to educate 300 asthma sufferers, and openings are still available. Families can sign up for an assessment by calling (718) 482 5642 or visiting www.laguardia.edu/asthma to fill out an online form.