Breathmobile makes second appearance at Berkeley elementary school

Dean Ignacio/Staff
Spencer Weir, resident nurse, helps treat a student in the Breathmobile, a free traveling clinic for asthma, at Malcolm X Elementary School.

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A mobile asthma clinic held its second free clinic at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley Monday for students with asthma symptoms.

Around a dozen students have been seen since the first Breathmobile program launched on Oct. 18, joining the 290 other students already being seen by the program’s staff in locations around Alameda County.

First started in Los Angeles, Breathmobile is a mobile asthma care unit that provides preventative care to children with asthma problems who would otherwise incur high medical costs and miss school. The vehicle has been visiting local elementary schools every four to six weeks.

Malcolm X fifth grader Rebecca Washington was one of the students given a program plan to cope with her asthma after being seen by the Breathmobile staff.

“Every time I do P.E. and I run, I breathe really hard and I have heart pains. It hurts, but I try walking,” she said. “(The Breathmobile staff) just told me that I can take puffs (from an inhaler) before running so I feel better.”

Washington’s mother Antoinetta Manning said the clinic enabled both her and her daughter to engage in self-care by looking at alternative ways to control the asthma instead of taking medication.

“I have been going through this since (Rebecca) was three months old, and I keep having to switch doctors because they’re not helping,” Manning said. “I take Rebecca to the doctor every other month, but I end up having to take her to the ER at least three times a month.”

Breathmobile Operations Manager and nurse Spencer Weir said children’s respiratory systems are the most delicate and the first to be compromised when they get ill. They are not trying to replace the role of doctors but instead fill a shortcoming in asthma patients’ treatment, he said.

“Follow-up is necessary, so families dealing with asthma don’t have to go far with the Breathmobile on campus,” Weir said.

With every visit, the staff works with the student and parent to reassess how the student is progressing with an asthma plan, said School District spokesperson Mark Coplan.

“Everyone is looking at this … They are able to prescribe minimal medication, so they cannot be given medication just because they don’t know what else to do,” Coplan said.

One in five children aged five through 17 in Alameda County has asthma — more than the state’s average of one in six, according to the 2009 California Health Interview Survey.

Rosa Parks Elementary School — another school in the district with a high prevalence of asthma — will be considered as the second Berkeley Breathmobile site.

Contact Aliyah Mohammed at [email protected].