By Gary Fitzgerald
In 1998, Jerome Bettis arrived at the first-ever Allergy & Asthma Day Capitol Hill (AADCH) with a simple message: You can do almost anything with asthma as long as it’s well-managed.
Bettis knows this better than anyone. Diagnosed with asthma at age 14, he has accomplished everything he dreamed of as a boy growing up in Detroit: he attended college at Notre Dame, played pro football for 13 years, and led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl XL championship in 2005.
Last January, Bettis accomplished one more dream: He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It was fitting that Bettis should return to Capitol Hill in May for the 18th annual AADCH and Allergy & Asthma Network’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. During a Congressional Briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., he spoke about managing his asthma and shellfish allergy.
Bettis learned he had a shellfish allergy a year after his asthma diagnosis. His throat “started closing up” after he ate shrimp fried rice at his aunt’s house. For years, Bettis was unaware his allergic reactions to shellfish could be life-threatening, and he did not know epinephrine was a first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
“I was basically unprotected everywhere I went,” Bettis said. “Once I became educated, I understood to keep my epinephrine auto-injectors with me at all times. It changed my life. It allowed me to go places I normally wouldn’t go, because I was trying to protect myself from my allergy.
“I want that to be an option for every single person who has any type of life-threatening allergy. I want people to be educated about allergies. I’ve made that my mission.”
Meeting With Congress
After the Congressional Briefing, Bettis walked the halls of Congress and visited with members and their staff, joining Allergy & Asthma Network in raising awareness and advocating for patients with asthma and allergies.
Advocacy efforts focused on expanding team-based collaborative care in schools. One proposed initiative urges the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to consider a program to grant school nurses access to student electronic health records. This would allow them to better provide healthcare for students, including those with asthma and allergies.
The Network also supports S-1065, the School Asthma Management Plan Act, which calls for $100 million in funding to allow schools, especially those in low-income areas with high rates of asthma, to purchase bronchodilator inhalers and holding chambers. The legislation would ensure children with asthma always have access to the treatment they need.
Learn more about The Network’s advocacy initiatives and get involved at www.AllergyAsthmaNetwork.org/Advocacy.