This is the story of a little boy named Tommy J. who died suddenly at age 9 of an asthma attack. He was in his backyard playing when the attack came on quickly and fiercely. Although he had a slight cold the last few days and had felt at the at an attack could be coming on, he hadn’t been paying much attention to the slight wheezing. He tried to ignore it because he didn’t want to upset his parents anymore. Things had been sp tense in the house with so much yelling and screaming that just tried to stay out of the way. It seemed that the fighting just made his wheezing worse
Tommy would say that all the problems started when his dad got laid off work. Dad had been a sheet metal worker and had worked for an automobile manufacturing company. Sometimes his dad and he would lean over the railing at the highway overpass and watch the cars whiz underneath. His dad would brag about the different models of cars that had helped to build. Tommy was proud of his dad’s strong back and muscular arms that molded those sport cars and family vans. He never thought about the pollution spewing from the vehicles’ exhaust pipes, Tommy’s mom was a hairdresser who worked ar a nearby salon and attended the local state university part-time. She was working towards a degree in business administration and hoped someday to open her own small business, Tommy was proud of his mom for working so hard to earn a college degree.
But then the automobile manufacturer “downsized” and laid off a couple thousand workers in his town, The Company had decided to build these cars in Mexico where the labor was cheaper and the environmental restrictions more relaxed. The factory workers were incensed that the local government officials hadn’t offered the auto company some incentives to keep the jobs in the area. Mr.J was disappointed in the union leadership who said that they had done all they could avoid the lay-offs. All of a sudden, Tommy’s father pay stub of 15.65 an hour was gone. Their health insurance, retirement, and other benefits had also disappeared.
Severance pay and unemployment benefits kept the family going for a while as Mr. J looked for another job. But he learned that despite his good health and excellent work record, he had few marketable skills and another job in the industrial sector was hard to find. With just a high school diploma, he was locked out of employment opportunities in any technical field. He though to enroll himself in a job retaining program, but he couldn’t afford the fees and he needed to earn money now to pay the bills.
Mrs. J cut back on her class load in order to put in more hours at the beauty parlor. Mr.J found himself working two jobs—both low-paying, and both with few or no benefits. In the earl morning and late afternoon he drove a school bus for the district. $35.00 a day hours, and felt all the time just ne step ahead from collecting agency.
What worried the J family the most was the lack of health insurance. The fast-food restaurant offered Mr.J health benefits, but only for him. He would have to pay the cost of coverage for the rest of the family. But frankly, they couldn’t afford it. Besides, they were still trying to pay off a hospital bill from a few months back when Tommy had a particularly bad attack and had required intensive respiratory treatment. So the J’s decided to try to stay healthy and utilize community health services as much as possible. They were caught in the middle—too poor for private health insurance, too rich for public assistance. It was during times like this that Tommy’s mother felt regret for not breastfeeding, because she had heard it might have helped Tommy stay healthy.
Tommy’s first asthmatic attack had occurred when he was just 3 years old. It had frightened the whole family, but Tommy’s breathing had relaxed with the first injection given to him in their local ER. Follow-up visits with the family care provider were helpful. They learned about asthma, how to handle the disease, what to do to prevent attacks, and what to do when wheezing started.
Tommy’s dad managed to stop smoking, and his mom carefully changed her clothes before coming home from the salon for fear of what perfumes and chemicals might be in the hair products she used at work. They moved to an apartment in a newer building. The rent was higher, but there was less concern over molds that arte common in older buildings. Tommy still suffered occasional attacks, but for the most part, his asthma was under control.
At least it was so until his dad had lost his job at the car factory, and he got crabby and so tired, and his mom so nervous and so irritable. Tommy’s attacks increased in frequency and intensity. They could no longer afford the private pediatrician’s fees, and began seeking care at different community clinics and emergency rooms. Different faces, different treatment styles. Some health workers were friendly; some were mean and chewed out Tommy’s parents for one thing or another. Like the time they had to wait so long be attended and Tommy’s younger sister started acting up. The clerk yelled at Tommy’s mother until she nearly cried. They returned home so frazzled that Tommy’s parents swore they would never return to that clinic again. When an attack came on, the Js tried to control it at home as much as possible. But it couldn’t always be done.
Life just unraveled. Screaming, yelling, crying, mom and dad working so hard, so little food on the table, no McDonald’s, no trips to the mall. The Js couldn’t afford the high rent anymore, so they moved into a basement apartment belonging to Mrs.J.’s boss. The dampness and molds were not good for Tommy. Nor was the stale smoke from his dad’s cigarettes as Mr.J had recently started up smoking again, and he was smoking heavily. Not only that, but the apartment happened to be next to a brown field and a community with a lot of factories. Very often, the atmosphere was full of a hazy smoke.
Maybe it was the foods Tommy was eating that were causing problems. With the house in such turmoil and so little more, it was hard to maintain any sense of nutrition and dietary control. The Food Pantry was helpful, but Mrs.J had been told once not to serve so much processed package food. But then, who can afford fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, and fish? Tommy had had few episodes of wheezing, and all of his medication had been used up. The Js were waiting until the next paycheck to buy his meds.
When attack came on, it was late afternoon and Tommy and his younger sister Ann were alone in the house. Their mother was working at the beauty salon a few blocks away, and their dad was driving the school bus. Ann rushed to the neighbor’s house to call their mother, who came running home Mrs.J felt helpless.
There was nothing to give Tommy and was fighting to catch his breath. The neighbor called 911, and thank God, the paramedics came quickly. They attended to Tommy, gave him some oxygen and some meds, stabilized him, and took him to the nearest ER. At the hospital, Tommy was checked. His breathing was calmer, but he needed to be admitted. However, the hospital could not accept Tommy because the Js had no insurance. Tommy was transferred to County Hospital. On the way there, Tommy suffered a severe attack that could not be stopped. He died shortly after arriving at County.
Causes of Tommy’s Death
What do you think was the greatest cause of Tommy’s death? (this may not be the column with the most responses) Explain your answer.
How could Tommy’s death been prevented? Is there someone/something to blame? Explain your answer.