(Tuesday, 31st Mar, 2015)
Celebrities fighting asthma
By Patrick Gleeson
Have you ever wondered what Superman, Dylan Thomas, Alice Cooper and four different American presidents including Bill Clinton have in common? Ever asked yourself what the link is between Che Guevara, Sharon Stone, Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor? The hidden connection between all of these people is asthma.
Christopher Reeve, the actor who shot to fame playing the man of steel, suffered from asthma from an early age while Guevara's struggle with the chronic lung disease was one of the main reasons behind his decision to study medicine at the University of Buenos Aries. It's even possible that universally-acclaimed works of art such as Beethoven's symphonies or Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and Raging Bull might not exist if their creators hadn’t suffered from asthma.
Historians have noted that many of the German's most famous pieces of music were composed while railing against Vienna's bumbling doctors who were unable to give him relief from asthma. Scorsese meanwhile, makes no secret of the fact that his love of movies began during his childhood when he ended up spending a great deal of time in the movie theatre because his asthma prevented him from fighting back on the rough New York streets where he grew up.
Even Charles Dickens, possibly the best-known English writer after Shakespeare, fought a lifelong battle with the disease and found that opium was the only thing that could offer him some relief.
It is now widely accepted that suffering from asthma does not automatically exclude a person from almost any activity and this includes sports. Indeed not only can an asthma sufferer simply partake in sports but the amount of professional athletes who now openly admit to fighting asthma shows that it is possible to compete at the highest level.
Swimmer Nancy Hogshead won three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics despite her asthma. She admits to being surprised when doctors first suggested she might have the disease. "The first time a doctor asked me to get on a treadmill to test for asthma I thought he was crazy," she said. "I thought people with asthma were sickly wheezers. I was a world champion swimmer, hardly a weakling."
But the doctors were right and Hogshead admits that even though she has asthma she is now healthier than she was during the peak of her swimming career because she has learned how to manage it: "I used to get what I thought were colds and bronchitis that kept me sick for more than a month each year. Before I knew about my asthma I was always struggling to catch my breath and I would frequently cough and sometimes pass out after a hard swim. But now that I know how to control my asthma, I don't have to miss out on a single day."
Another well-known asthma sufferer who has reached the top of the sporting world is American footballer Jerome 'The Bus' Bettis. When he was first diagnosed with asthma at 15 Bettis thought it automatically meant the end of playing sports but his parents told him that as long as he followed the doctor's programme it shouldn’t be a problem. The Pittsburgh Steeler player followed this advice until after high school but then began to get complacent about managing his asthma and it almost killed him. "In 1997 I had an asthma attack during a nationally televised game," said Bettis.
"The fact is I was fighting for my breath and I almost died. It was the most frightening experience I've ever had, but it also served as a turning point in my life because since that day, I've learned that asthma is like any other adversary and needs to be treated with respect."
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