News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


At least one person dies every week from asthma

20 May 2012

At least one person dies every week from asthma

Asthma Awareness Week is the 20-26 May with Balloon Day on Friday, 24 May.

Charlie Temel had asthma off and on since he was about four years old. This included stays of up to five days in hospital and lots of trips to hospital in the middle of the night. A popular, outgoing and sporty boy, Charlie never let asthma hold him back. Just after his ninth birthday, Charlie suddenly stood up from what he was doing, said he couldn’t breathe and he collapsed. It was that quick.

At least one person a week dies from asthma with 61 deaths in 2007 and 65 in 2008. Sadly Charlie was one of these.

“People are surprised to learn that asthma can kill – many people regard asthma as a mild disease that causes the odd episode of wheezy breathing,” says Dr Kyle Perrin, medical adviser at the Asthma Foundation. Not only that, asthma was also responsible for 8,000 hospital admissions in 2011, as confirmed by University of Otago figures.

“Charlie was very fit – he loved rugby, cricket and mini ball – and was a strong boy who rarely complained. We’d like to tell other parents how differently asthma can present – Charlie had no coughing, no wheezing – the only real change was that he was quiet,” says Charlie’s mother Jane.

In the 12 months prior, Charlie had been without asthma symptoms and his specialist was starting to talk about reducing his medication because he’d been so good for so long. However, that winter things changed. Charlie couldn’t shake a niggling virus and a persistent, dry cough. He was taken into hospital on at least two occasions but both times he was checked and sent home again with directions to carry on the usual treatment.

After one particular rugby practice he became upset by some minor incident. The niggling virus plus the emotional upset, combined with what they later realised was a significant pollen drop, produced a rough night’s sleep. The next day Charlie was kept off school. Jane’s parents were visiting from New Plymouth; they have a lot of experience with asthma due to their son, who is now 40, having severe asthma all his life. Nick, Charlie’s father, dropped their middle son, Oskar off to Montessori school and left Charlie at home with his grandparents. Jane went off to work and said goodbye as if it were a normal day.

Charlie got dressed and came down from his bedroom to have breakfast. He seemed to be quite OK and wasn’t coughing, wheezing or complaining of being uncomfortable. “We thought he’d be fine just taking it easy and using his usual asthma reliever,” said Jane.

When Charlie collapsed his grandparents called an ambulance immediately and performed CPR. Nick came home to something no parent wants to see – ambulances in the driveway and the paramedic staff attempting to revive Charlie. “Charlie was on life support for about 24 hours, but we knew we had to accept that he was gone.”

The Temel’s other two sons, Oskar and Ollie, now 10 and 7, also have a history of asthma to varying degrees. Both were hospitalised with asthma multiple times when they were younger, but Oskar seems to have grown out of it and Oliver is on a preventative regime that keeps his asthma well controlled.

Dr Perrin says, “We are asking New Zealanders who have children with asthma to make sure they keep using their medication as prescribed and keep their asthma under control at all times. Don't just wait until your child’s asthma is out of control to do something about it. We recommend parents consider getting a child asthma management plan completed with a health professional. The plan is designed to help parents manage their child’s asthma and recognise when it is deteriorating before it becomes an emergency.”

“At least one death per week every year from asthma is too many. The Asthma Foundation is focussing on prevention. To support this we will continue to fund research into treatments and educating on best practice,” said Angela Francis, chief executive of the Asthma Foundation.

For Charlie’s parents it is too late. “There are so many things we wish that we’d done for Charlie. We can’t bring our precious son back, but to honour his life and his memory we want to raise awareness of the seriousness of asthma. We recommend sticking closely to your asthma management plan, and to always seek medical attention immediately if you are at all unsure or worried – don’t delay because asthma can be fatal.”

1. One in four New Zealand children and one in six adults has asthma.
2. New Zealand has the second highest rate of asthma in the world, following the UK.
3. People still die from asthma, with 79 deaths in 2006, 61 in 2007 and 65 in 2008.
4. About 800,000 New Zealanders are affected by asthma and other respiratory conditions.
5. The prevalence of asthma is similar for Māori and non-Māori children. However, Māori children with asthma tend to have more severe symptoms, require hospitalisation for asthma almost twice as often as non-Māori children, and require more time off school because of asthma.
6. It is estimated that 550,000 school days in New Zealand are lost each year due to asthma.
7. New Zealand’s economic burden of asthma is conservatively estimated at over $800,000,000 per year.
8. Asthma affects approximately 235 million people worldwide and the prevalence is rising.
9. Asthma causes an estimated 250,000 deaths annually worldwide.

2011 Total asthma admissions
Data from University of Otago review of admission information (1 Jan 2013)

District Health BoardTotal admissionsRate per 100,000Ranking (1= highest rate of admissions per 100,000)
Bay of Plenty (Tauranga)4602594
Canterbury (Christchurch)69017016
Capital and Coast (Wellington)5572188
Counties Manukau11892515
Hawke’s Bay (Wairoa/Hawke’s Bay)28721010
Hutt Valley3482663
Lakes (Rotorua/Taupo)2723041
Mid Central (Palmerston Nth)30020712
Nelson Marlborough14212919
Northland (Whangarei/Dargaville/Kawakawa/Kaitaia)26920013
South Canterbury (Timaru)429620
Southern (Southland/Otago)32213118
Tairawhiti (Gisborne)9320811
Taranaki (New Plymouth)17819214
Waikato (Hamilton)58317815
Wairarapa (Masterton)692109
Waitemata (North Shore/Waitakere)10742247
West Coast (Greymouth)4416017
Whanganui (Wanganui)1532912

About the Asthma Foundation
The Asthma Foundation is New Zealand’s sector authority on asthma and other respiratory illnesses. We advocate to government and raise awareness of respiratory illnesses, fund research for better treatments and educate on best practice. We provide resources on our website and support our affiliated asthma societies and trusts in providing education, support and advice. For more information, visit the Asthma Foundation’s website


© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Troy Kingi Rules The San Fran

The award-winning Northland musician performed songs from his new record The Ghost of Freddie Cesar, the fourth installment in his 10/10/10 series - ten albums in ten years in ten genres. More>>

Howard Davis: The Phoenix Foundation Rises From The Ashes (& Chris O'Connor Talks)

Simultaneously dreamy and structured, understated and subtle, spacious and hypnotic, The Phoenix Foundation's new album Lifeline includes gorgeous vocal harmonies, lilting lyrics with no lack of wry, self-deprecating humour, and gently weeping guitar parts. More>>

Howard Davis: Estère At San Fran

Appearing at Wellington's San Fran to promote her new single, Calculated Risk, the local musician sutured together a highly impressive set of syncopated soul beats, weaving a brilliant dance cloth of iridescent splendour.More>>

Back On The Stairway To Heaven: Led Zeppelin Wins Over Spirit

In March, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal upheld an original jury finding that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven did not infringe copyright in Spirit’s 1968 song Taurus. Michael Skidmore, who had filed the suit in 2014 as trustee of the ... More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland