Mom battles pollution so kids can breathe better

Posted: June 20, 2014

The Winchester Star

Coleman lives in the city with Shaquira, her youngest child, who has a heart condition that has required three surgeries. Coleman said air pollution restrictions are essential in the fight against asthma and other lung issues.
Shaquira Coleman, 4, walks with her mother, Dian, in Winchester on Thursday. Coleman wrote President Obama about air pollution and her family history of lung issues. Three of Coleman’s children have asthma.

WINCHESTER — As a mother of six, you’d think Dian Coleman would be the one struggling to catch her breath. You’d be wrong — it’s her kids, three of whom have asthma.

Coleman’s mother, sister and nephew also suffer from lung issues.

Their plight was brought up by President Barack Obama earlier this month in a conference call with public health organizations following the announcement of a proposal to cut the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Besides lowering the levels of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas linked to global warming — the rule would reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, which affect public health.

However, some politicians plan to fight the rule because they say it will hurt jobs and the economy.

Coleman lives in the city with her youngest child, Shaquira, 4, who has a heart condition that has required three surgeries.

Four of her children live with their dad in Woodbridge. Aaliyah, 9, suffers from allergies; Christian, 10, and Diante, 14, both have asthma; Youman, 16, has allergies and asthma. Oldest child Aquoia Madison, 22, has severe allergies.

Coleman’s mother, Robin Hatcher, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; her sister, Tia Powell, has asthma; and Powell’s 10-year-old son also has asthma. They all live in Maryland. Coleman also has an aunt who died of lung cancer.

Time magazine quoted Obama’s reference to Coleman, who had sent him a letter imploring him to push for a strong stance on pollution.

“She keeps her home free of dust that can trigger asthma attacks,” the president said. “Cigarettes aren’t allowed across the threshold of her home. But despite all that, she can’t control the pollution that contributes potentially to her kids’ illnesses, as well as threatening the planet. We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing something on behalf of Dian, and doing it in a way that allows us also to grow the economy and get at the forefront of our clean energy future.”

Coleman was touched by Obama’s words.

“I thought he cared,” she said Wednesday. “I was surprised that he picked my letter of all letters to acknowledge.”

In her Feb. 24 letter to Obama, Coleman said she was an advocate for the health of her family.

“My kids need me, and so I take care of myself in order to take care of them,” she wrote. “But my family’s medical bills are outrageous, and I can’t help but think that the lung problems I see around me are out of control.”

While keeping her kids’ prescriptions filled and banning cigarettes from the house are “vital ... so are protections against air pollution.”

“Ozone and particle pollution are dangerous, and people with lung and heart disease — people like my daughter, sons, nephew, sister and mother — are in the greatest danger,” the letter continues. “Climate change is projected to lead to increases of both of these pollutants, so we need to act now to protect my family’s health. The health impacts of climate change aren’t abstract — they’re all around me, in the faces of my children and relatives.”

Between nebulizers and numerous medications, bills can get very high.

“Then you have to do alternatives, if you don’t have the money to pay for the medication, which makes them suffer,” Coleman said Wednesday. “They get the medication that they need [through Medicaid], but still sometimes some things aren’t covered.”

She’s someone who will write legislators.

“If something doesn’t get done, I have to go to another level and try to get the help that’s needed,” Coleman explained.

She’s even written to the president before.

“When he first came into office, I wrote him a letter,” she said. “I just can’t remember what it was about.”

Coleman became a volunteer for the American Lung Association (ALA) after filling out information on the association’s Facebook page, according to Laura Kate Anderson Bender, who works for the ALA as the coordinator of the Virginia Healthy Air Coalition.

Bender said lung disease is very prevalent in the U.S. That’s especially true of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

“That’s actually the third-leading cause of death in the country right after heart disease and cancer,” Bender said.

And, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, she said.

“More women are dying of lung cancer than of breast cancer,” Bender said.

And, for people with asthma, air pollution can have a big impact, she said. When pollution levels are high, asthmatic children might not be able to play outside, she said.

“[The EPA rule] is one of the biggest things we can do to stave off some of the worst health impacts of global warming,” Bender said.

She encouraged other people with lung diseases to share their story at the ALA website, fightingforair.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com