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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Times Reporter dies of asthma while on assignment

On Monday I was asked to write a post about a correspondent for the New York Times who died of an asthma attack while on assignment.  Because it dealt with the passing of a fellow asthmatic, it was among the most challenging things I've ever written.

The following was published at HealthCentral/asthma on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012:

"Prize Winning New York Times Correspondent Dies of Asthma"

Anthony Shadid was an asthmatic.  He carried his asthma medication with him.  He was also a Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent who risked everything to tell true life stories from dangerous regions of the Middle East.  He was shot once, arrested, and even abused.  Yet in the end what took his life wasn't the high risk job he loved, but his own asthma.

The New York Times reports that Shadid was in Syria gathering information for his current assignment, which "was fraught with dangers, not the least of which was discovery by the pro-government authorities in Syria."

He traveled at night to a mountainous border area between Syria and Turkey, and squeezed through a fence by pulling apart the wires.  Waiting on the other side were guides on horseback.  Yet there was a risk in doing that too for Shadid, because he was apparently allergic to horses.  That night he suffered an asthma attack.  He recovered with rest, the Times reports.

A week later Shadid was on his way out of Syria, was closing in on the Turkey border, when he came close to horses once again.  He became short of breath, leaned against a rock, and collapsed.  The apparent cause of death was asthma.

His coworkers confirm (click here) that he died doing what he loved most.  And this is the goal of any asthmatic, that we take our medicines as prescribed so we can live a normal, active life.  Shadid did just that, and the result was excellent reporting from the most dangerous part of the world. 

Bill Keller, Columnist and Former Executive Editor for the New York Times said "He went to places that were inaccessible and dangerous and miserable -- not as a daredevil or adrenaline junkie, not recklessly, often reluctantly, always with the most meticulous and careful planning -- but he knew you had to be there."

Asthma is sort of the same way.  It's "dangerous," even "miserable" at times.  Yet with meticulous and careful attention to your disease, by visiting with your doctor on a regular basis, by taking your medicine exactly as prescribed by your doctor, you can do the things you enjoy most in life. 

However small, there are still risks to having asthma.  The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology ( notes that of the 300 million asthmatics in the world, 250,000 deaths are attributed to the disease each year.  That comes to less than a 0.83 percent chance of dying from asthma.

The risk is small, yet it's still there, always there. 

One of the scary things about asthma is it can go into hiding, and pretend not to be there.  Then it can creep up on you when you're least expecting it, and sometimes even strike quick. 

And it's for this reason we must always remember we have asthma, and do the best we can tocontrol it.  In this way we can live a normal life, and do the things we love, no matter how dangerous. 

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