By Wendy Sarubbi | August 8, 2016 9:49 am

Tax-free shoppers received medical advice on their breathing difficulties and learned if they are at risk for asthma, thanks to a “Take Back Your Air” screening August 6 organized by med students and faculty.

UCF M.D. students from all four classes – including first-years who hadn’t even started class yet – volunteered to screen adults and children for asthma, a disease that impacts an estimated 26 million Americans.

Patients included a woman using a rescue inhaler multiple times a day to try and relieve her uncontrolled asthma symptoms and children and adults suffering from allergies, nighttime coughing and recurrent episodes of bronchitis.

Dr. Santiago Martinez, a UCF College of Medicine volunteer faculty member and allergy specialist, helped organize the event. More than 10 million youngsters under age 18 suffer from asthma, he said, and one quarter of allergy cases lead to asthma. About 3,000 people die each year from asthma, which causes inflammation and construction of the airways. “This is a great opportunity for the students to help increase asthma awareness in our community and help improve the quality of life for patients with the condition,” he said. His daughter Maria, a UCF pre-med student, has participated in multiple events over the years but said, “I’ve never seen so many medical students involved before.”

The screenings, at Orlando’s Fashion Square Mall, were designed to coincide with back-to-school, tax-free weekend shopping. The collaborative event included UCF volunteer and affiliated faculty, medical students from Orlando and Florida State University, respiratory technicians from Florida Hospital, volunteers from the American Lung Association and pre-med students from the UCF College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. Students checked-in and escorted patients, helped them fill out paperwork and helped explain educational materials. They collected data for an upcoming research project. Technicians did the actual testing, measuring the strength of patients’ breaths and lung capacity. Physicians explained results, using models of lungs and airways.

One of the day’s most popular participants was Duke, the asthma therapy dog of respiratory therapist Terry Suarez of South Lake Hospital. Suarez has battled asthma since early childhood and Duke is certified to alert her when she begins wheezing and when he smells unusual substances that can trigger her asthma, ranging from burned popcorn at a movie theater to a bleach spill at the grocery store. “He’s my nose,” Suarez said of 2 ½-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier, who is named for John Wayne.

Suarez’s advice to people struggling with asthma: “Life is a gift. Don’t let asthma limit you in life. Know your triggers and be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you use your resources – like Duke – to live life to the fullest.”

Nearby, first-year UCF medical student Monet Winslow observed as Dr. Martinez and other physicians advised patients on their symptoms and treatment. She volunteered for the event, just five days after her White Coat Ceremony, because she said she wanted to get to engage with the community as soon as possible. The event’s leaders, including second-year students Sven Eriksson and Morgan Beebe, had recruited their new colleagues during the week’s med school orientation.

“This is what I love best about UCF and medicine,” Beebe said. “All of us with different backgrounds coming together to make a difference.”


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