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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Resource helps children breathe easier

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

Rosemary Stekar's earliest childhood memory is not a pleasant one: She was about 3 years old and she couldn't breathe. At the time, Rosemary was in the midst of a severe asthma attack, and even though she was so young, she thought she was going to die.
Lifelong asthma sufferer Rosemary Stekar, right, with children (from top) Madeline, Evan and Harrison, has benefited from resources such as the Ontario Lung Association's Breathe Easy booklet.

"I thought it was my last day. I remember my mom scampering around to try to give me whatever medication they had. They didn't have puffers in those days. I ended up waking up the next day. But I had many more attacks like that until I was in my 20s."

Today, Rosemary can breathe easier...not just because of better medication, but also because of improved information on the simple measures we can take in our homes to protect asthma sufferers from such frightening and dangerous attacks.

Canadian children are admitted to hospitals for treatment of asthma more often than any other illness. According to the Ontario Lung Association, six million Canadians have a respiratory problem -- and this year, about 38,000 of those afflicted will die.

While most health workers advise asthma patients to keep their homes clean of allergens like dust and smoke in order to avoid aggravating the condition, the Lung Association and 3M have joined forces to help clamp down on asthma -- even before it develops.

They've produced a booklet called Breathe Easier, which they will distribute to new mothers across Ontario with all the most updated, scientifically-proven techniques to stop the development of this respiratory disease and protect those most vulnerable -- children.

"Asthma is a genetic condition. People are born with the gene, and something triggers the gene to develop for the asthma to occur, and often it's exposure to a pollutant or chemical outdoors or indoors," says Brian Stocks, air quality manager of the Lung Association.
Here are just a few ways to help children breathe easier:
1) Butt out! Children are particularly vulnerable to the pollutants in second-hand smoke, so don't allow anyone to smoke in your home.
2) Choose washable toys. To kill dust mites, toys should be washed often in hot water (at least 130'F).
3) Clamp down on damp. Too much moisture in the home can aggravate breathing problems. Fix leaks and keep basements and bathrooms dry.
There is much more you can do to improve indoor air quality.
To read the Breathe Easier booklet online, visit the Ontario Lung Association Web site at

"Because we're making our homes more airtight, we tend to seal in a lot of indoor pollutants such as tobacco smoke, dampness and mould, dust and even some of the gas and chemicals that come from the furniture itself," he adds.

The booklet gives young mothers plenty of different suggestions for ways to protect their children's developing respiratory system. Brian Stocks gives a few more suggestions:

"Some people react to some chemicals. Others do not. If you're buying couches and chairs, look for low emission products. If you are using paint, then use latex rather than oil indoors. There are number of measures that you can take."

As for Rosemary, when she moved out of her family home and into her own house, she worked hard to create a clean environment. She started by removing dusty red velvet wallpaper and the wall-to-wall carpet, and soon she was feeling better than ever.

Today, Rosemary rarely experiences asthma attacks, and while her three children have inherited the disease, thanks to the knowledge she's gained over the years and the information gathered by the Lung Association, they don't have to suffer the way she did as a child.

(Susan Poizner ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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