KILLEEN, Texas — More than 25 million Americans struggle with asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. It can be a devastating, and dangerous condition for some sufferers. For one Central Texas family, it almost took everything from them.
The pictures in Brittany and Raymond Copeland's home are the perfect portrait of innocence and they tell a story of their twin boys, Christian and Christopher, dressed in identical clothes, with identical smiles.
"Science can't explain the bond twins have," Brittany said. "They were two peas in a pod, his brother was his best friend."
What the pictures don't show is the disease that narrows their airways, leaving them struggling for air. After a sudden attack on a cruise ship, doctors diagnosed Christopher with asthma. A month later, they diagnosed Christian with the same thing.
Christian and Christopher's asthma is more than inhalers and allergies, it’s the thin line that separates life from death. It’s a line they’re all too familiar with.
“People don’t understand that asthma is deadly,” Brittany said.
Three years ago, in the middle of the night, Christopher had an attack. But this time it was different, his parents said.
“I gave him his medicine, but it wasn’t working," Raymond said.
Christopher had taken his final breath.
“He died, he passed away in my arms,” Raymond said.
That little boy with so much life to live was gone. The Copelands said they were broken.
“I’m supposed to bring him home alive, I'm supposed to be daddy. Daddy couldn’t do anything,” Raymond said.
Christian was left without his other half.
“The cry that my son let out, I have never heard so much pain in a cry,” Brittany said.
Three years have passed, but the family said the pain doesn’t go away, it just gets a little easier to manage.
Like a bad dream, in May of 2019, it happened all over again. Brittany walked into her son's room where Christian was gasping for air.
“He’s saying, 'Momma I can't, I can't,'” Brittany said.
The Copelands rushed to the hospital as they'd done before.
“It was the same emergency room where we lost our other son. Same condition. 'God don’t do this to me again,'” Raymond said.
The outlook was bleak.
“The man came out and said, 'It doesn’t look too good,'" Raymond said. "We thanked him and continued to worship even harder.”
Some might call it a miracle or a little help from a higher power, but Christian’s story wasn’t over.
“They came back and said, 'We got him,'” Raymond said.
Christian was alive, but facing unimaginable adversity.
"He couldn’t move, couldn’t see, couldn’t talk clearly, he just screamed," Raymond said. "They said, 'It’s going to be about 10 years before you have any resemblance of who he was. He’ll never be the same.'”
The Copeland's didn’t lose their faith, didn’t forget their prayers, and it paid off.
Months after asthma almost took his life, Christian was walking, talking, and thriving.
Every year, McLane Children’s Hospital organizes a retreat called Camp Wheeze-Away. It helps Christian learn new things, and be around other kids who battle asthma as well. The camp teaches kids about what can trigger an attack, and strategies to cope with the disease.
The threat of another asthma attack always looms, and the memory of the day he lost his best friend is still fresh.
“They couldn’t stop it,” Christian said.
The pictures in the Copeland's house tell a story about a brotherly bond that was broken too soon and a little boy that now breathes for them both.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
For some sufferers, asthma is a minor condition, for others, it can be life-threatening.
There is no cure for asthma, but there is treatment. It is a condition that often changes and in some cases, its symptoms can go away.
Symptoms of asthma
Asthma symptoms are different for those who suffer. They include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu
Signs that your asthma is probably worsening include:
- Asthma signs and symptoms that are more frequent and bothersome
- Increasing difficulty breathing (measurable with a peak flow meter, a device used to check how well your lungs are working)
- The need to use a quick-relief inhaler more often
What causes asthma?
No one knows why some people get asthma and others don't. Doctors say it may be a combination of a person's environment and genetics.
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