Asthma Education: Bill and Jeanne Wurster's Story

Seven days a week, dozens of parents and their children gather in the Bill and Jeanne Wurster Asthma Education Room. There, they learn the facts about asthma and what they can do to help control it.

Asthma is the No. 1 reason children visit the emergency room, are admitted to hospitals, and miss school. When uncontrolled, asthma affects every aspect of a child's life. More than 6 million children in the U.S. have asthma, and every year thousands die as a result of the disease.

"The goal of our asthma education is to keep your children well so they are not coming to the emergency department or getting admitted to the hospital," says respiratory therapist Bernadette D'Onofrio.

Learning how to prevent asthma flares

Every parent of a child admitted to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia with asthma must attend a class (upon each admission, not just the first) and every inpatient asthmatic age 9 and older is encouraged to attend. The class is an integral part of the Hospital's quest to use education as a means of fighting the most common chronic childhood disease.

"It's really critical to have education and communication around asthma care," says Mark Magnusson, MD, PhD, who is head of Children's Hospital's Asthma Care. "The class gives parents the basic concepts so they can manage their child's asthma when they first go home until they have follow-up with their primary care physicians."

For years, asthma class was held informally wherever space was available. Nurses and therapists who volunteered to teach would find colleagues to cover their duties. Unfortunately, they were frequently interrupted during class.

Thanks to a generous $1 million commitment from Bill and Jeanne Wurster, the class is now held at the same time every day, with Hospital staff whose only duty during that time is to teach.

Educating families about asthma

Instructors, including D'Onofrio, RRT-NPS, AE-C, and Maureen McCloskey, RN, CPN, provide basic information about triggers, warning signs and medications. Upon discharge, each family receives an asthma care plan that outlines the care the family should provide when their child is well and during a flare. This plan is then used to manage the child's asthma at home, in the emergency department, in the hospital and in the patient's primary care physician's office.

At the end of class, a representative from the Hospital's Community Asthma Prevention Program offers information on community classes and home visits to help control asthma.

Asthma class provides the basics. An interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, therapists and case managers also teach at the bedside, providing information specific to each patient.

D'Onofrio and McCloskey, who both have sons with asthma, understand how frightening the disease can be for parents.

"We want to assist the family in caring for and preventing asthma flares. Having an understanding of their child's illness helps with preventing and controlling asthma," McCloskey says. "Education is essential."