Like most teenagers, Jonelle Vold thought she was invincible. She’d been diagnosed with asthma as a child, but it never worried her.
“I thought of it as this minor thing,” says the mother of two from Tucson, Ariz. “Every now and then I have to use an inhaler, no big deal—it’s like having a bad hair day.”
But that all changed one day when she was 15. Riding back from a soccer tournament in a remote area of Arizona, she had a severe asthma attack in the car. She passed out and had to be rushed to the nearest hospital.
“The doctor said, ‘You were very close to not making it,’” she says. “It made me realize how dangerous asthma could be. I realized then that I would have to treat this condition with some respect and priority.”
Though traumatic, that incident was a wake-up call for Jonelle, now 37. While she wouldn’t let it get in the way of anything she wanted to accomplish, she also would never again be unprepared for a major attack.
Over the course of the next 20 years, Jonelle learned to manage her condition. She worked closely with a pulmonologist to learn her triggers, which include mold and eating dairy products. Now, she says, she can look back and see that the combination of physical activity, wind in a grassy area and the cheese on the pizza she ate for lunch brought on that fateful attack. And she’s better able to predict where and when an asthma attack might strike again.
“I have to pay attention,” she says. “It’s about being aware every single day of how I’m breathing, where I’m going and what I’m doing. If I start to feel like I’m having an attack, I can’t continue to be in that situation.”
Her vigilance also ensures that she hasn’t had to give up any foods or activities outright. Dairy is fine to eat as long as she’s not experiencing any other triggers. And she can walk, dance and do yoga as much as she wants—exercise is a priority in her life—if she’s not already feeling wheezy and she brings her rescue inhaler along.
Thanks to a lifetime managing asthma, Jonelle was better prepared when her now 6-year-old twins, Kaylee and JT, were diagnosed as infants. It’s not uncommon for asthmatics to have children who develop the condition. (Jonelle’s mom has it, too.)
“There was a year when my daughter was an infant that it was very bad,” Jonelle says. “Some nights I’d lay on the floor so I could hear her breathing.”
Things have become easier since the twins are old enough to understand a little about their condition and can confidently operate their inhalers. But while Jonelle is prepared for any situation—with action plans posted inside kitchen cupboards for quick reference—she also wants her children to grow up with the philosophy she has now.
“They are very active, and I don’t think I could control that even if I wanted to, so it’s just about having a plan,” she says with a laugh. “You’ve got to take control of your own disease. It is very manageable—if you take that step and decide to manage it. Work with professionals who give you the peace of mind and the tools you need.”