Family lost young son to asthma

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 12:30 08/05/2013
Hedley family
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ

DON'T FORGET ASTHMA: Longburn's David and Angela Hedley lost 9-year-old Sean Hedley to an asthma attack in 2009.

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ASTHMA SUFFERER: Nine-year-old Sean Hedley, son of Longburn sharemilker David Hedley, died after an asthma attack on January 12, 2009.
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HEADSTONE: The grave site of Sean Hedley.
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VIGIL: Family gather at the grave site.

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When the Hedleys' six-year-old asthmatic son cries out "I'm wheezy", it brings back tear-jerking memories for the family.

Nine-year-old Sean Hedley, son of Longburn sharemilker David Hedley, died after an asthma attack on January 12, 2009.

Three of David's four sons have suffered from asthma and six-year-old Braden now displays similar symptoms to Sean at the same age.

David and his wife Angela shared the story on World Asthma Day yesterday of their battles with the respiratory disease to help people understand just how important it is to never underestimate it.

"You just can't take it for granted," David said.

"It can be very, very dangerous."

On the morning of Sean's fatal attack, the SpongeBob and Hot Wheels-loving boy was released from hospital with "the best breath flow he had ever had".

That night, staying in New Plymouth with his mother, he started wheezing. His lungs closed and he went into cardiac arrest.

The ambulance arrived within two minutes to take him to New Plymouth Hospital.

Sean was transferred to Starship children's hospital the next morning, but his brain had been starved of oxygen. His doctor described the attack as "similar to going into anaphylactic shock".

With Sean's brain no longer functioning, David made the difficult call to take him off life support the next day.

"There are certainly times when I asked ‘why?'.

"He was just such a smiley, happy boy.

"I know in the first year, there would be times when I was working in the field and I would break down and cry."

David was more than familiar with asthma before he had children. He has chronic asthma, severe enough to put him in hospital a number of times as a boy.

With modern drugs to control it he suffers less, but he still has to carry his inhaler.

His 17-year-old son Nathan has similar, but less severe symptoms.

It is his 6-year-old Braden whom the Hedleys worry about most now.

"When I hear the young one wheezing, I know how bad it can get," David said.

"Sean got a lot worse as he got older but he was about the same as Braden at the same age.

"Sean used to yell: ‘I'm wheezy, I need my puffer'.

"Now Braden will yell out, ‘I'm wheezy'.

"It's scary."

According to MidCentral Health respiration nurse practitioner Victoria Perry, Manawatu has one of the highest rates of diagnosed asthma in the country.

About 20 per cent of children in the region are affected by it, although the severity of the disease is lessening with treatment, awareness and MidCentral initiatives.

Reasons for the region's high asthma rates were hard to pinpoint, but damp conditions and high winds increased symptoms, she said.

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The Hedleys are moving to Taranaki at the beginning of June and are looking forward to living in a smaller, more cosy house.

Their tale is not one of complete woe.

David and Angela's two-year-old Elijah is well. He has no signs of respiratory disease and they are hopeful he will have a life unaffected by asthma.

And even if it was to develop as he gets older, the Hedleys have the attitude to help him deal with it.

"I try not to let asthma slow me down," David said.

"I still play rugby. You've just got to live life, understand what it can do and not get too fat."

- Manawatu Standard

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