Patient Blogs | Asthma
Asthma and My Black History
photo of family having dessert

I have had the pleasure of writing about my experience with asthma for more than a year now. My journey started in my mid-30s and has had twists and turns beyond what I could have imagined. I am grateful every day for the breath in my lungs. 

I often think back to my great aunt (my mother’s aunt), Webbie. They called her “Ain’ty Webbie” in the South. I always thought her name had a ring to it – like the beginning of a fun little song. I can’t recall if I ever met her, but it sure did feel like I knew her. I thought she was so beautiful. She had the toothiest grin, long black silky hair, and eyes that glistened. As a child, you know someone is beautiful even if you don’t have the words. 

I have a picture of her wearing a light floral smock dress, clasping her hands in glee from her front porch. She’s standing on the top step of her tiny Texas home. I wonder now in hindsight if she owned or rented her home as Black Americans weren’t permitted to get home loans for many decades. 

Whoever captured the photos cemented a moment that could easily read “welcome home!” I don’t know who she is welcoming, but she’s overjoyed. Clasped hands. Smile for miles. Crinkled eyes. I like to imagine she awaited a wiggly baby. Or maybe a sister separated by years of stories to soon be shared.

My great “Aint” Webbie had asthma. It was on that same porch where she would collapse as she waited for the ambulance to arrive. They missed her by minutes. My mom always told me she was a sweet, soft-spoken but no-nonsense person. I bet I would have liked her. 

Many Black Americans lived in rural Texas on the “other side” of the tracks – way too far from men and women with stretchers and oxygen. It has been this way for years. She was born at a time when responding to Blacks in distress was often seen as optional. 

For this Black History month, I’ve thought a lot about Black trailblazers in medicine and health care. I’m empowered by little-known pieces of history, like the one about the Pittsburgh paramedics – a group of Black men who became the first EMTs in a class shortly after the ambulance was created in the late 1960s.  After a successful pilot program of saving lives and transporting patients to local hospitals, the crew was replaced by an all-white team in 1975 – despite its success. This type of history is just as important to me as whatever country Napoleon was destroying at the time. Because of these and other Black innovators, I do not expect a demise as tragic as Aunt Webbie’s. 

To have an issue with your lungs like with asthma is to live with the constant reality that life is fragile. Without proper precautions, asthma can be life-threatening. Whenever I sit with this, I often think about what life may have been like for those enslaved or even post-slavery people who looked like me. Did they receive the care they needed? Were there doctors willing to treat them even if it meant they could lose their license – or their life?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Blacks are nearly 1.5 times more likely to have asthma compared to their white counterparts, five times more likely to visit the ER due to asthma and three times more likely to die. Some data suggest asthma can be higher for those in rural areas – like the dusty Texas town that housed many of my family members. 

I’d like to dream one day that beautiful, smiling aunties like my Aunt Webbie will only use a front porch for its intended person – to provide a warm embrace to someone whose been gone way too long.



Photo Credit: AnnaStills via Getty Images

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Michele Jordan

Michele Jordan

Diagnosed since 2005

Michele Jordan, a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, was diagnosed with asthma in 2005. Her writing background includes magazine and online journalism, grant writing, and now screenwriting. She is passionate about both physical and mental health and is the author of the book Thanking Your Way to Joy: Daily Gratitude Journal. When not writing, Michele enjoys traveling with her husband, trying new, healthy recipes, and cuddling beagles. Her latest passion includes exploring and discussing issues around equity in housing, health care, and the justice system.

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