Theresa Moore's Story by her father Roger
My daughter Theresa was diagnosed with asthma for the first time when she was 9 years old. Ten years later, on November 13, 1995, she died from it. Although hospitalized over 10 times throughout those years, she still managed to experience life to its fullest. It wasn't until after she was gone that we all realized she had been the focal point of our family. She was the middle child and was very close with her brother, Brad and her sister, Jamie.
I wrote about her last few days soon after she died. At the time I wrote to help me through the grief I was feeling. But I also thought that perhaps one day I would have an opportunity to share my experience with an audience, and by doing so, help elevate public awareness to how serious asthma is and help eliminate some of the misconceptions that surround it. This is Theresa's story.
She burst through the front door and ran up the stairs to her room. It was Friday night. Theresa had just got off work and was planning to go out for the evening. She was always in a hurry. This time was no different. It had been a long day and after early morning classes at the University of Texas at San Antonio, she put in 8 hours as the swing shift manager at McDonald's. In her own words, she was ready to party. A few minutes later she was about to run out the front door when I asked, "Hey, don't I get a kiss?" She ran back in and after a quick kiss on the cheek said, "I love you Dad." As quickly as she entered the room, she was gone. Unknown to me at the time, that would be the last kiss I would get from her. I walked to the front door, opened it, and watched her drive away. Looking up at the sky I noticed the high, dark clouds and the wind was picking up too. There was a cold front coming in.
It was early November -- Friday, November 3rd to be exact. The time of year in southern Texas when the weather could change suddenly and drop 30 degrees overnight. My wife and I had just begun to suspect that Theresa's asthma was triggered by sudden changes in weather. Several of her most severe attacks could be traced back to nights just like that one.
Early Saturday morning, while the family was in bed sleeping, Theresa was awakened by an asthma attack. She apparently had gone downstairs and attempted to medicate herself. When she needed help, she woke her brother Brad by ringing the room-to-room intercom between the kitchen and his room. Brad rushed into our bedroom and woke up me and my wife. She went downstairs to help while I rushed to get dressed.
Nearly all night-time attacks ended with a quick ride to the ER. We determined later that Theresa had been up for about twenty minutes using the nebulizer all by herself. We had told her many times not to use the nebulizer in the middle of the night without waking one of us first so we could monitor her condition. She hated to bother us with her asthma. I'm sure that evening she thought she could handle it herself. But this time she couldn't.
Brad and I rushed Theresa to the car. The trip started out much as all the rest. Theresa was having some difficulty breathing but nothing she couldn't handle. But, it was soon evident that something was different this time. Theresa was getting worse much faster than ever before. We were only a few minutes from the emergency room when Theresa passed out. What could I do?
I glanced at the speedometer and noticed I was already going over 100 mph. Brad was trying to give Theresa CPR. It wasn't working. I tried to keep my head and emotions under control but it was getting harder and harder to do. As I approached the guard at Lackland AFB's main gate on my way to Wilford Hall Medical Center I knew I didn't have time to stop and just kept on going. As I approached the ER parking lot I rounded the turn too fast and crashed the car into a curb. After sending Brad on ahead for help, I ended up carrying Theresa the remaining 50 yards to the emergency room. Someone ran outside and helped me carry her the rest of the way in. We had made it. But precious moments had been lost. She wasn't breathing.
The doctors did everything they could. They got her heart started but no one knew for sure how long it had been since she stopped breathing. She was in a coma.
Throughout the day Theresa had several seizures that were quickly brought under control. That evening, while everyone else went home to get some rest, I spent the night in the waiting room. It had been a long day. It was going to be an even longer night.
Sunday came and went.
Monday morning... and still no change in her condition. It was really hard to accept. We sat in her room and talked to her all of the time. They say hearing is the last sense to go. When I leaned over and whispered in her ear to tell her how much we all loved her, I thought I saw a tear in her eye. Could she hear me?
Wednesday morning was extremely difficult. Theresa had to be taken off sedatives in preparation for tests. Brain death is determined by running a patient through a battery of tests designed to stimulate the nervous system. Her pupils were checked -- no response. Cold water was squirted in her ear -- no response. A sharp object was run along the bottom of her foot -- no response. Finally, reflexes were checked -- still no response. The news was not good. The tests would be repeated again on Friday, but I think I already knew what the results would be. Theresa's condition was getting worse.
We asked friends who wanted to, to come and see her over the weekend for what most likely would be the last time. Everyone came to say their goodbyes. It was a long weekend.
On Monday afternoon Theresa was taken off the ventilator for ten minutes to see if she could sustain her own breathing. She could not. We asked the priest assigned to Wilford Hall to give Theresa her last rites. We spoke to the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance and arranged to have her organs donated. She was ready. We were not. With our permission, she was declared brain dead at 2:20 PM on November 13, 1995.
That evening we gathered around her bed to be with her one last time. We all had our time alone with her and a final opportunity to say goodbye. We left the room at 9:50 PM glancing her way one last time on the way out. We walked out of the hospital and quietly got in the car. I distinctly remember the individual impact of all four doors slamming shut, one for each member of the family. I believe it was that moment that really drove it home to me. It had all been so surreal up until then. Now it was over. Theresa was gone.
I remember holding Theresa's hand and running through the ocean waves on the beaches of California when she was just 3 years old. When she was 4, I remember how she taught herself to read. I remember her curly hair and pig tails. I remember the dozen roses she won for her mother in a coloring contest and the time she snuck a drink on New Year's eve only to be caught on camera -- she was only 8. I remember the softball games in California when she was 12; cheer leading camp in Iowa when she was 14; her 16th birthday in Nebraska; and her high school graduation and prom here in San Antonio when she was 17. I remember helping her look for her first car when she was 18 and teaching her how to drive.
And finally, how can I ever forget the many times I rushed her to the emergency room late in the middle of the night. The many times we laughed together while waiting long hours to get her settled into her hospital bed after making it through yet another one of her many asthma attacks. I will never forget. A father's love runs deep -- and lasts forever.
My father, who's 77, has asthma. I had asthma in my late teens and early twenties but haven't had an attack in over 30 years. My daughter Jamie, who's 25, still has asthma attacks but not as many as in the past. And recently I found out my three year old grandson is experiencing asthma-like symptoms.
I never knew my father had asthma. We didn't talk about it when I was growing up. I'm not sure why. I didn't have my first asthma attack until I was 19. I'll never forget it. I thought I was going to die that night. At the time, I didn't even know it was an asthma attack.
It wasn't until 12 years later, when Theresa and Jamie were diagnosed with asthma, that we finally put it all together. Like most asthmatics, Theresa was diagnosed with asthma for the first time in an emergency room. If you're finding out in the ER, you're finding out too late.
Now we find out our grandson may have asthma. But this time we are approaching asthma from a whole new perspective. His grandma recognized the symptoms immediately. This time we caught it early. His mother is a nurse and has experienced asthma first hand. Our family is fully aware of what asthma is, what it can do, and what we need to do to control it.
Over the past 10 years we have seen the American Lung Association:
Act as advocates to improve air quality
Promote the reduction/elimination of environmental causes of asthma
And educate not only those who suffer from lung disease, but school nurses and personnel working at child care facilities.
Hopefully one day there will be a cure for asthma, or at least better forms of treatment. But in the meantime, education is crucial. Our challenge is to make others aware of the danger and make them understand that you don't have to lose a child to realize how serious it is.
I want to personally thank each and every one of you for the contributions you are making to the American Lung Association and asthma walks all around the country.
If, while working together you can raise public awareness to the severity of asthma and by doing so, prevent just one death ... then it has all been worthwhile.