Word and artwork contributed by Robert Adoo Kissi-Debrah
My name is Robert Adoo Kissi-Debrah and I am 15 years old. I live in southeast London, and I’ve had asthma since I was 1. Because of this, I’ve had to take asthma medication every single morning and night.
I walk to school with my twin sister almost every day to get as much exercise and fresh air as possible. When we walk, we must avoid main roads due to the high pollution from all the cars, which could trigger my asthma. If I start to cough, wheeze, or feel a tightness in my chest and difficulty breathing, I must use my salbutamol. It can help by relaxing the muscles of the airways into my lungs, which makes it easier to breathe. Salbutamol comes in an inhaler (a puffer).
Sometimes it will be hard to take an inhaler properly (especially if you are having an asthma attack), so I must make sure that my sister and friends know how to use an inhaler properly. Since I am with them most of the time, if anything happens to me, they will be able to help.
However, I have not had to even use my salbutamol in over a month, and I have not had to go into A&E in over 3½ years due to my asthma being under control. It is important that it is controlled right now as things such as the heat could easily trigger my asthma if it were not controlled.
Exercise is important to me as it keeps me healthy by reducing inflammatory proteins. This reduction improves how my airways would respond to exercise. The more I work out, the more my lungs get used to consuming oxygen and their capacity increases. If I am not careful and push myself too much though, it could lead to narrowing of the airways in the lungs. This could cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and other symptoms during or after exercise. Usually I am fine though, as I know my limits and when I need to stop. To exercise, I go to the gym every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. I also walk to school and back home every day, which is about 3.4 miles. When having an asthma attack, you are too breathless to speak, eat or sleep. Your breathing is getting faster, and it feels like you cannot catch your breath. You can also feel chest tightness or pain. Your peak flow score will also be lower than normal.
When I was younger, I had to go to the hospital a lot. I would have to stay overnight on my own which could be scary and upsetting, but my spirits were lifted when my family and friends came to visit in the mornings. This affected my learning as I would not be able to go to school. At that time, I felt like this was a good thing, but now I realise missing lessons for days can leave you with quite a large gap in your knowledge that you will have to catch up on when you get back to school.
Asthma doesn’t just affect your learning when in hospital but also when in school. If I had to take my inhaler at school, I would have to leave the class. When taking my inhaler in primary school, I would always feel embarrassed and feel like everyone would be watching me, but now I realise the importance of it and how, if taken incorrectly, it could leave you in a worse situation.
My mum runs The Ella Roberta Foundation, which raises awareness about asthma and improves air quality for everyone, everywhere. We campaign for asthma guidelines to be followed by governments, councils, medical professionals, and the public, all over the world. The Ella Roberta Foundation believes in a world where clean air is a human right and that everyone should be able to breathe air that is free from toxic pollution, regardless of where they live, their economic status or their ethnic background.
Asthma is a long-term medical condition that has affected me my whole life. Although it can be challenging at times, I have never allowed it to control my life or hold me back from completing any task ahead of me.