There are little pieces of me left in many corners of Vancouver, where I spent my 20’s. It had been 13 years since we’d been back. One rainy evening, while heading to our hotel, Sam drove as I gazed out the window, lost in a time warp. And then I saw it. Before I knew I’d spoken out loud, Sam was already pulling over. I grabbed the camera, hopped out of the car and took this picture. A street sign. 17th and Oak. Strange, maybe. But it was here, on this block, where I had come face to face with death 20 years before. An unforgettable fleeting moment in my history.
I had decided to go out for an evening run. It was winter, it was dark and the rain had just stopped. I geared up and locked the front door, storing my keys in the box of my truck. I shook my ventolin, took a few puffs, an extra, since I was feeling a little wheezy, and I headed out alone. Just a few minutes into the run, my chest heaved and my trachea tightened. This was not uncommon, so I slowed, took out my ventolin, and inhaled….this time to no avail. Again I depressed the inhaler, and my trachea spasmed more. I was stopped in my tracks. Before I knew it, I was bent over, hands on my knees, struggling to breathe. Asthma attacks weren’t uncommon for me. I’ve spent time in emergency rooms, and been scared and struggled to breathe. But this was different. Inhaling was impossible. Exhaling was impossible. My vision darkened and I was brought to my knees. Across the street a man was coming toward me. The dark street was otherwise deserted. I was desperate. I couldn’t speak, and could hardly look up. I tried to raise my hand to get his attention and the word “help” was inaudible, lost in my breathlessness. He saw me. His pace quickened, he looked away and hurried off. I must have looked drunk or crazy. I don’t know. But it was in that moment I knew I needed to find strength or die right there. I prayed and I moved, and somehow I got to my truck, grateful the keys were in the back and even more grateful that the Vancouver General was only a few blocks away. I stumbled through the emergency room door into a waiting room packed with people. In a single sweep, I was wheeled through the big swinging doors where my life was saved.

Today I am virtually asthma free. This is not because of medications, doctor’s advice or growing out of my condition. This recovery is the result of a deliberate and personal decision to make a change. As the years passed, I had moved toward a vegetarian diet, mainly for ethical reasons. The asthma waxed and waned. I believe my fitness helped a lot. I was able to compete in triathlons and runs, but always with ventolin-in-hand. When my little boy started to show signs of having asthma, I took inventory. I was still going through a ventolin about every two weeks. This was not what I wanted for him. Way back in 1995 my nutrition instructor, Brenda Davis, R.D.,  (at The West Coast College of Massage Therapy), had warned against dairy products, and that was why I had nursed my babies until they were two. While my son had never had cow milk, I had started feeding him other dairy products when he was about 3. I recalled those lectures with Brenda Davis, and decided to give up dairy for three weeks. We’ve never looked back. Within days my ventolin was “shelved” and my son and I are now free of asthma. We eat a whole foods, plant based diet and avoid processed foods where hidden preservatives and artificial ingredients are commonly found.
I did have many allergy tests done, checking several different “Ig” responses. While I always responded to things like cat and dog hair, horse hair and mites, I never responded to milk or milk proteins, or any animal based foods of any kind. For many years I went through a Ventolin Inhaler every two weeks, and more Flovent and Prednisone than I’d like to remember. Today I have a Ventolin in my cupboard that is almost a year old. I like to keep one, just in case, but it is dusty, thats for sure!
Margot Freitag

(In Canada, approximately 20 children and 500 adults die each year from asthma. Asthma rates have increased in people ages 15 and older by 2.3 % in 1979 to 8.4% in 2008. World-wide, deaths from asthma have reached over 250,000 annually.)