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Marianne Hilgert's picture

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I have always considered myself a supporter of clean air.  But my quest to advocate for clean air became personal when I became a mother.

My oldest daughter Gabriela, or Gaby as we call her, was diagnosed with asthma when she had just turned 2.  Gaby is now 8 and in second grade.  She is currently taking 3 medications daily to control her asthma.   This is on a “good” day.  When she has a cold, or another respiratory infection, she takes 5.

I was told by an allergist that asthma is “a childhood illness which is usually outgrown by age 7.”  When Gaby turned 7 last September, I was ready to break out the champagne.  “We’ve finally reached the turning point,” I told my husband.  But we hadn’t.  During first grade, she missed 4 weeks of school because of her asthma.   This was slightly better than kindergarten, when she missed 5 weeks.

If you don’t have a close relative who is asthmatic, it may be difficult to understand the toll—emotionally, financially, and physically—that this illness takes on the entire family.  As a family, we have tried everything in our power to combat this disease.  Gaby eats gluten-free foods, avoids dairy and processed foods and practices aromatherapy.  My husband even encapsulated our crawl space, by himself, as a way to possibly decrease her asthma attacks.

I worry a lot about Gaby.  I worry about the long-term effects that the antibiotics, the inhaled and oral steroids, and other medicines will have on her 49 lb body.  I have witnessed the short-term effects of the inhaled steroids leading to many a tantrum.

I sometimes have to remind myself that Gaby is lucky.  She is fortunate to have frequent check-ups with the best allergists and pediatricians in the nation, to have great health insurance, and to live in a single-family home where certain “triggers” can be controlled.  I realize that many other Latino children are not as fortunate.   Nearly one out of every two Latinos lives in the country’s top 25 most ozone-polluted cities, and Hispanic children are 60% more likely to have asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic Whites.

As a parent I would like to be able to protect my daughter and control the asthma attacks.  But some things, like the weather, are out of a mother’s control.  The extreme temperature variations that we experienced this spring in the DC area were especially hard on Gaby’s lungs. We should definitely be doing everything possible to make our air as clean as possible, and the very idea of NOT doing it —of NOT using the best technologies we have and setting pollution standards that put public health first — makes absolutely no sense to me.

As a mother and a Latina, I am paying close attention to the candidates’ proposed policies on clean air and I urge all mothers to find out more about the differences and similarities between the two.  While we may not be able to control extreme weather variations and air pollution, one major way we can advocate for clean air is by voting.  Knowing where each candidate stands on clean air has been pivotal in deciding which candidate I will vote for.  By taking this small—yet significant step—all mothers can play a role in protecting all of our children and families from the impact of air pollution.  What’s at stake during these elections is more than just politics—it’s our children’s health.


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