Thursday, August 27, 2009

Barbecue Raises Awareness and Money to Fight Deadly Lung Disease

Michelle Thompson (right) in 2007 with her little sister, Natalee Smith. Michelle died a year later from asthma. Her mother, Jennifer Smith, is holding a barbecue on Sept. 5 in Hesperia, in Michelle's memory, to raise money for the American Lung Association. She is also organizing a team to walk in the American Lung Association's Healthy Air Walk on Oct. 3 at Fontana Park.

(HESPERIA, Calif.) Michelle Thompson, then 16, died a year ago from asthma. Death from childhood asthma is rare, but Michelle’s mom wants to make it even more so.

“My daughter died a horrible death, and it could have been prevented,” said mom Jennifer Smith. “My hope is that no more children will die the way she did.”

One of the ways Jennifer Smith has worked through her grief is by volunteering with the American Lung Association in California’s Inland Empire chapter. As the organization prepares for its Healthy Air Walk, its largest fundraiser of the year, Smith is organizing a team to walk in Michelle’s memory.

The team, which so far consists of Smith and four other High Desert-area volunteers, is hosting a barbecue Saturday, Sept. 5 at Albertson’s grocery store, 16840 Main Street, Hesperia. It lasts from 11 a.m. until food is no longer available.

The team hopes to raise $1,600, a goal Smith chose because of her daughter’s age when she died.
Along with others from the Inland Empire, the team from Hesperia will participate in the Inland Empire Healthy Air Walk on Saturday, Oct. 3 at Fontana Park, 15556 Summit Ave., Fontana. Healthy Air Walks are held throughout California to raise money for programs that reduce air pollution and prevent lung disease, including asthma.

Smith volunteers with the American Lung Association in California’s Inland Empire chapter because it proved to be a valuable source of information about asthma.

“Before Michelle died, I didn’t realize people could die from asthma,” said Smith. “I had a lot of questions, and was seeking a place to find answers. The American Lung Association was that place.”

Now that she knows more about asthma, Smith is working with the American Lung Association in two other areas as well. One of her goals is educating the public about asthma, from families where a member suffers from this chronic disease, to health care providers, school workers and others one might rely on during an asthma attack.

Her other goal is working with the American Lung Association in California to help California’s Legislature create a comprehensive plan for dealing with asthma. The current plan varies from county to county, Smith noted, and two hospitals or schools within a county often take different approaches. The American Lung Association in California’s website calls these approaches “piecemeal at best.”

“Asthma can be deadly,” Smith said. “But it’s a death that is preventable.”

The American Lung Association was established in 1904 and was instrumental in its first 52 years in nearly eradicating tuberculosis. In 1956, it expanded its mission to fight all forms of lung disease. In its last five decades, it has also strived to reduce tobacco use and air pollution, both of which are serious threats to lung health.