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Greg Hebrank, from Jeannette, Pa., at age 10 was having a great Christmas and looking forward to his vacation when, without warning, he woke up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. "Greg has always had bad allergies," says Chris Hebrank, Greg's mother. "And he often woke up at night with breathing trouble, but that night was different. He was paler than I had ever seen him before, and he couldn't breathe at all."
"He just kept getting worse," says Chris. "By morning, I was scared to death." Greg's pediatrician recommended he should be taken to the local Emergency Department. When they arrived, the physicians tried to determine Greg's lung function, but he was so weak he couldn't take a breath big enough to register anything on the pulmonary function test. The doctors immediately started Greg on intravenous steroids and continuous breathing treatments to try to open his airways, but nothing helped.
Soon, Greg's ability to breathe went from bad to worse. "As soon as Greg's pediatrician arrived and saw how bad he was, she called the Emergency Department at Children's Hospital and arranged to have Greg transported," says Chris.
When Greg arrived at Children's Emergency Department, he was transferred to the Intermediate Intensive Care Unit (IICU). In the IICU, Greg continued to receive intravenous steroids and breathing treatments, but his lungs didn't respond. Greg's lung function dropped so far that he had to receive 100 percent oxygen through a mask. It was then, as the nurses were putting Greg's oxygen mask on and preparing to transfer him to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) that Chris first learned what was really wrong with her son.
"The charge nurse came over to Greg's nurse and told her the doctor wanted to transfer Greg to the PICU where he could be monitored more closely," says Chris. "And when she talked about Greg, she referred to him as an asthmatic. Until then, I thought Greg was having a severe allergic reaction. We never knew that Greg had asthma."
Greg spent the next two days in the PICU where a team of physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists monitored his progress. Slowly, the intravenous steroids began to take effect and Greg was weaned off the oxygen. When Greg was able to breathe on his own, he was transferred to an inpatient unit.
Before Greg was discharged, his attending physician prescribed two inhaled asthma medications (one inhaled steroid and one quick-reliever) and arranged a follow-up visit with the Allergy and Immunology Department. "The best thing that happened as a result of Greg's asthma attack was that we learned once and for all what we were dealing with and how to treat him," says Chris. "Until then, we had been treating Greg as a kid with severe allergies, and a lot of the things we were doing to help his allergies were actually making his asthma worse."
Two weeks after Greg was released from Children's, his lung function was back to normal (80-100 percent), and Chris took him to visit a specialist in Children's Allergy and Immunology Department. "I brought all of Greg's allergy medications with us," says Chris. "And, after all Greg's allergy test results came back, the doctor told me to throw everything away."
Greg's test results proved he has allergies, but the bigger problem was his asthma. Based on Greg's medical history, he likely had moderate to severe asthma for years, but it went undiagnosed because most people — even some physicians — are unaware of the symptoms.
Today, Greg uses a nasal spray to control his allergies and an inhaled steroid to manage his asthma on a daily basis. If his asthma flares up, Greg has another inhaled medication, commonly called reliever medicine, which he can use to bring his asthma under control.
Thanks to these new medications, his mother says Greg is a totally different child. "After Greg was first diagnosed with asthma, for the first time he has been consistently sleeping through the night," says Chris. "And he's so much more active than ever before. He's constantly outside riding his bike, skateboarding, roller blading or playing soccer with friends. At night, I have to beg him to come in."
But Chris would much rather beg her son to come in from playing than plead with doctors to help him breathe, as she did that day in December when she rushed him to the Emergency Department. "Thanks to everyone in the Emergency Department, the PICU and the Allergy and Immunology Department at Children's, we're all breathing a little easier now," says Chris.
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UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
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