Mobile team takes asthma care to Atlanta schools

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At 10, Sonja Leonard has grown up with asthma. Hers is brought on by exercise.

"It's not fun, because you don't get to do the things you want to do," Leonard says.

But the 5th grader at Fickett Elementary in Atlanta's Ben Hill neighborhood doesn't have to go far for her asthma checkups. She just walks out the door of her school and into the Atlanta Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.

Leonard's mom, who a kindergarten teacher here, says the at-school checkups save her time and money, as a mother of 4.

"Some days, I have to clock out of work and take them to the doctor, and then rush back to work if I can," Frances Smith says.

The 40-foot Care Mobile, now in its fourth year as a traveling clinic, focused primarily on asthma care and prevention. But the team also sees children who aren't feeling well and need to see a healthcare provider.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta nurse practitioner Martha Cargill and her team visit 10-Atlanta elementary and middle schools with some of the city's highest rates of asthma.

"Asthma can cause breathlessness, wheezing, coughing," Cargill says. "The most common symptom of asthma is that nighttime cough."

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta says asthma is the top reason children are admitted to its Atlanta hospitals. The pediatric hospital system estimated Georgia students lose a half a million days of school each year because of asthma.

"These kids either the end up in the emergency room, the hospital, or at the doctor's office for their asthma," Cargill says. "Because of that nighttime cough, they don't sleep well at night.   So, it can impact their schooling. They're not learning, because they're tired when they go to school, that can impact their learning."

Cargill treats students in the morning, then follows up with their parents on the phone in the afternoon.  
Fickett Elementary Principal Benita Grant estimates they have as many as 200 students here who struggle with asthma.  

So bringing this kind of care to the kids makes a huge difference.

"Kids stay in school," Grant says. "That's the biggest thing. The kids stay in school.  It's convenience and access for our parents. There are parents who do not have transportation. We can care for them here."