Nov. 10, 1997 By Corrina Stevens GAINESVILLE, Fla.---A program that identifies children and young adults with life-threatening asthma and teaches the correct response to an attack has better controlled asthma attacks in 77 percent of patients, said researchers at the University of Florida.
In fact, the Red Alert program at Shands at UF has been so successful most of the patients enrolled were able to be discharged from the program, UF researchers reported in a recent journal article.
Their asthmatic condition became better controlled through education and proper use of medication. In addition, the program created a "safety network" of trained family members, teachers and health-care professionals available to respond to an asthma attack properly.
"The program is extremely worthwhile. We started the program because there was a need to assure patients that rapid access to medical care was available when a life-threatening attack occurred. Since then, the program has been very successful in giving patients and caregivers confidence that timely and appropriate assistance is there when needed," said Dr. James Sherman, chief of UF's Pediatric Pulmonary Center.
The Red Alert team teaches caregivers the proper response to an asthma attack and notifies local ambulance services, hospitals and schools that a Red Alert patient lives in the area. Parents receive information for emergency workers that gives treatment instructions, a medication list, physicians to contact and validation their child is enrolled in the program.
More than 93 percent of patient's parents surveyed said their anxiety about accessing medical care had decreased and they felt better prepared to treat their child's asthma as a result of the Red Alert Program, UF researchers reported in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.
School officials say they are happy to have assistance in dealing with the leading cause of school absences attributed to chronic conditions. When school nurse Linda Stamper, had a student who was enrolled in the program, she said it was reassuring to know help was only a phone call away. "The Red Alert Program was like working with a security blanket," Stamper said.
Approximately 4.8 million U.S. children have asthma, according to the American Lung Association, and on average more than 350 children and young adults die from asthma attacks annually.
Seventy-five patients have been enrolled in the Red Alert Program since it was created in 1988. The program was created in response to the death of a UF Pediatric Pulmonary Center patient from an asthma attack while being treated at a rural hospital.
"The child died before our pediatric pulmonary physician was contacted. Some rural hospitals aren't sure how to identify and treat a severe attack," said Cindy Capen, a UF pediatric pulmonary nurse. "Many hospitals don't have a pediatrician in the emergency room. Red Alert provides a safety net for children and their families."
Only patients at UF's Pediatric Pulmonary Center are eligible for enrollment in the Red Alert Program. The center is one of seven in the United States funded by the nation's Bureau of Maternal and Child Health to teach health-care professionals how to treat pediatric pulmonary diseases.
Davenia Griffin of Lake City said her 15-year-old daughter Daysha Williams is a good example of the program's success. Her family relied on the program's services so much that four years ago they struggled with the decision to leave behind the safety network and move cross-country. UF pulmonologists put the family at ease by contacting doctors in Washington state to tell them about Daysha's condition and the family decided to move.
"I didn't want to leave Lake City. I didn't think she would get the attention out West that she gets here," said Griffin, who has since returned to Florida with her family.
"The program has taught me what to do right away when Daysha has an attack," Griffin said. "She has suffered fewer attacks since being enrolled."
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