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Children explore lungs and airways at World of Wonders Science Museum

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Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 6:44 pm

Joanne Bergstresser watched two of her children closely as they investigated a series of buckets representing the stages of an asthma attack. Both 6-year-old boys were blond and wore small blue eyeglasses as they giggled and called to each other about their discoveries.

The kids were happy to bounce around, but mom was keeping an eye on their breathing just in case either boy might need a dose of albuterol, an asthma medication. The twins have asthma in common, along with their cherry faces and enthusiasm.

“They started using inhalers before they could talk,” said Bergstresser.

Despite living with the breathing difficulty for their entire lives, the boys were eagerly running from one station to the next in the World of Wonders Science Museum on Saturday.

The museum joined with Respiratory Works, a Lodi non-profit group, to present Asthmanology, a one day event to explain what asthma is in a way children can understand. Ten numbered stations were set up around the perimeter of the museum and manned by volunteers from Lincoln Technical Academy in the health occupations course. Each student earned credit hours for taking the time to work with children about asthma.

There is no American Lung Association presence in the San Joaquin Valley, said Rene Fong. So the respiratory therapist decided to start her own non-profit group.

“The first part of May is when asthma problems really start up for a lot of patients. So we wanted to get the information out there,” she said

Asthma is a respiratory disorder that causes airways to swell, the muscles around them to tighten up and the cells in the airways produce extra mucus, all of which severely limits a person’s lung capacity and ability to breathe.

For a child living with asthma, triggers for a day of breathing problems are all around, according to the health occupations volunteers from Lincoln Technical Academy. From hairsprays and perfumes to dust and smoke or even exhaust fumes from cars, anything that puts particles into the air can spur an asthma attack. Stuffed animals aren’t good toys, and dogs and cats can leave pet dander around the house. Asthmatic kids are better off with snakes, turtles or other fur-free pets.

Bergstresser is all too familiar with the realities of asthma. She described having to stop her children from playing when they started to wheeze, or propping them up with pillows at night to breathe better while sleeping.

“People blow off asthma as allergies, but it’s different. When your child can’t breathe, it’s scary,” she said.

But her sons Aiden and Andrew were able to learn exactly how their lungs work and sometimes don’t work so well through the one day exhibit.

The first station had three buckets filled with unknown items and covered save for a small hole at the top.

Andrew Bergstresser reached his left hand inside the first bucket and squealed when he felt the damp sponge representing inflamed airways. The next bucket contained an automatic neck massager to show children how it might feel when muscles tighten around an airway. The boy was already well acquainted with the next bucket tagged with a question mark, judging by the bit of green stuck on his arm. The bucket of green goo was meant to represent the mucus created by cells in the airways of people with asthma.

Children moved through the ten booths learning how to test for ones lung capacity on a given day using peak flow meters. Another station was a tossing game to match symptoms with what’s happening in the lungs. One more had zoomed in photos of potential triggers, like pine trees or feathers or dust mites, for museum gores to guess.

The valley is well known for its poor air quality, said Fong.

According to the Public Heath Services of San Joaquin County, 16.7 percent of people in the county have asthma, while only 13.6 percent of people statewide deal with the disease. That gap grows slightly wider when the data looks at asthma patients under age 12. “It doesn’t just affect the under served population. It hurts everyone with breathing problems,” she said.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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