I don’t know life without asthma. For twenty years, I have battled with, and lost battles against, this debilitating sickness that worsens each winter. Asthma affects more than 25 million people in the United States, or about 8 percent of the population. About 7 million of them are children, I was one of them.
I was six years old and I loved running. I loved soccer, football, kickball, and pretty much any other sport that required running, a lot. I loved being outside and active. I loved feeling the air rush into my lungs and being able to outrun classmates. I loved the way it made me feel to conquer and persevere even after my body was exhausted.
Yet I hurt. I would have to sit down after a game and recover for hours. I felt like I would never be able to get my breath back. I would sometimes cry out of frustration; I was not able to do the thing that came natural to other children: breathe. I had to focus on my inhales and exhales, while classmates were onto the next activity. I’d sit out games even though I yearned to participate. I was held back by a creature inside of me that kept my full potential out of reach. With each step I took, more mucus coated my throat and lungs, and I realized there was no way I would ever be able to run without coughing up thick slime between restricted inhalations.
Because of my love of the outdoors and sports, my parents worked with physicians and asthma specialists across the nation to find effective treatments for me, but asthma never goes away. Instead, I was plagued with the inability to play soccer with my classmates. I missed out on sledding during the winter because the inversion trapped pollution that was too thick for me to breathe. Simple walks became a struggle; afterwards I would have to sit still. Recovery would often take hours and was aided by a pure oxygen nebulizer to clear the mucus from my lungs and feed my body with oxygen.
As an adult, I wish I was able to say that asthma only plagued my youth and that I’m now cured. But I’m not. I will never be able to take a full breath of air. During bad air days, I am limited to a few seconds per breath and wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. On orange or red days in Salt Lake City, the air outside is too dangerous to breathe, and I am confined to my home. When inversions stretch on for weeks, I sacrifice walks and adventures outdoors in fear that I will never again be able to catch my breath. It’s debilitating. It’s terrifying.
I know I’m not the only person experiencing this problem. While asthma makes our pollution problem deadly to its sufferers, to some degree, we’re all affected. Children sometimes have to stay inside for recess and hospitals see an influx in admissions. People miss work and people start coughing and complaining of head colds. No one should wake up gasping for air or be forced to stay indoors for long amounts of time during the winter, and now many days during summer, too.
Temperature inversions are a natural part of this region, but the pollution trapped inside can be significantly reduced. Instead of being overwhelmed and disheartened, this is a unique time to set an example about how transformation occurs. We cannot postpone our air quality problems for future generations to try to fix; we must act now. We must elect officials who understand that the air pollution problems of northern Utah are equally problematic and solvable. We must speak, teach, and spread this knowledge to our loved ones, neighbors, and public officials. With each vote for clean air and the regulation of emissions, and every electric car sold, we are standing up for ourselves, each other, and for those who cannot speak for themselves. We have a unique opportunity to turn this air pollution problem around. Let’s seize the opportunity!
Emily Paskett grew up in Salt Lake City and loves to hike, backpack, and experience the wonderful mountain ranges in Utah. She is finishing up her education at the University of Utah, and intends to work with local communities and the environment. b. 1997