ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Asthma is the No. 1 cause of visits to the St. Louis Children's Hospital emergency room, and the number one reason kids miss school.
But some asthma educators think they've found a secret to helping kids breathe easier.
And the results are like a breath of fresh air.
Four days a week during the school year, asthma nurses from St. Louis Children's Hospital jump in an RV and take their skills on the road.
You can see the Healthy Express asthma van coming for blocks.
But it's the way it makes kids feel that's a real lifesaver.
The destination this day: Washington Elementary School in the Normandy district.
The mission: open up constricted lungs that can lead to a bad night's sleep, constant coughing, and worries about staying active.
"They just get used to it and think that's the way they're supposed to feel because they have asthma," said Beth Roehm, a St. Louis Children's Hospital pediatric nurse practitioner, and asthma educator.
So along with reading, writing and arithmetic, nine-year-old Danekah Vaughn's lessons also center around her lungs, how to use her medicine, and when to tell an adult she's not feeling well.
The goal is to help kids breathe easier. So this van visits schools by zip codes with high rates of kids either going to the emergency room or missing school because of their asthma."
"It has been statistically significant that we have cut down on missed days of school," says Roehm.
Absentee rates among students like Danekah have dropped by five and a half days per school year for the past two years. That's below the general population for missed days of school.
Healthy Express students also had an almost 30 percent drop in trips to the E.R. and a more than 10 percent drop in hospitalizations.
"Breathing is so important," says Roehm, "you've got to breath to stay alive."
A mission these educators don't take for granted.
The nurses also keep in touch with parents, and develop home care action plans that kids can use when their symptoms flare up away from school.
Here's the link to more information on Healthy Kids Express: http://bit.ly/SOdRtL