Let's Double-Down for Children with Asthma Like Louian


Throughout Grand Rapids, children with asthma are hurting every day because poor air quality in their own homes triggers asthma attacks, making it hard to breathe. While asthma is a chronic disease, indoor air quality matters because it makes the difference between being able to breathe with ease, or struggling for each and every breath. Managing healthy indoor air quality is a key strategy for managing asthma because children spend the vast majority of their time indoors, much of it in their bedrooms during the night when they sleep.


Louian's Story

Indoor air quality matters for three-year-old Louian. The youngest of three boys, Louian had been to the emergency room four times in less than a year to control his asthma.

When Hannah and Jenn from Healthy Homes met Louian’s family, an assessment found that his recently renovated home was in good condition. Despite being a well-kept home with great curb appeal, there were common asthma triggers present.

Like many homes, there was a problem with mice getting into the house. Where are the mice coming from? Healthy Homes staff helped Louian's mom, Isnette, with information about how to prevent mice and provided mouse traps.

Dust was also a problem. Like eight out of every ten families visited by Healthy Homes, Louian's family did not have a good, working vacuum to clean the wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the house, including the room where Louian slept for ten hours every night. Healthy Homes provided the family with a vacuum with a HEPA filter to trap and remove the dangerous allergenic dust in the home.  

Healthy Homes also made sure that Louian's sleeping area was safe by placing allergy covers on his bed and pillow to reduce exposure to dust mites while he sleeps.


Not Just Asthma

Like many children his age, asthma triggers were not the only threat in Louian's home. Louian tested with a high level of lead.

Often the culprit is old lead-based paint. But that was not the case for Louian because there were newer windows and siding on the house. The lead was lurking in the soil in the backyard where Louian liked to play with his toy trucks, likely coming from the garage, which has chipping and peeling paint.

Healthy Homes helped Louian's family identify the soil hazard and taught them how to control it with special tactics to clean-up the lead dust that was being tracked into their home.

With guidance and the right resources, Louian's family was able to get both his asthma and lead levels under control.


More Home Visits Needed

Last year, the direct services team at Healthy Homes made a total of 382 home visits, for an average of five visits with each family served. While helpful, this work is small in comparison to the size of the problem.

In 2017, 424 Kent County kids tested with elevated levels of lead in their blood. In order to serve every family affected by lead through their Healthy Homes for Healthy Kids program, the organization would need to make more than 2,000 home visits a year.

That’s only lead. Asthma attacks are the leading reason kids are going to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital’s emergency room. Preventing those trips to the ER would require thousands of additional home visits.  


Not All Families are the Same

In Louian's case, the solutions were rather straightforward. But many other families experience a dangerous combination of hazardous housing and barriers to fixing those hazards.

Those barriers include poverty and the lack of resources to make repairs and procure basic supplies, unstable or unaffordable housing, uncooperative landlords, single parents trying to raise families while holding down full-time jobs, and the many other challenges that come with low wages. In Grand Rapids, 33% of children under five years of age are growing up in poverty. Many more families struggle with wages just above the poverty level.


Solutions Underway

One demonstrated solution to keeping children healthy is to increase the community’s capacity to make home visits. Those visits help identify hazards, teach families, fix hazards, and make homes healthier. To that end, the Healthy Homes Coalition is writing grants, developing partnerships, and soliciting donors for the support it needs to double the number of home visits in the coming year in order to make headway against a need that is far greater.  

Hundreds of donors have already supported these efforts. Partnerships have been developed with local pediatricians, hospitals, the Mercy Health Asthma Network, HealthNet of West Michigan, Head Start, schools, and many others. Philanthropists like the Sebastian Foundation, PNC Bank Foundation, Laker Children’s Fund, Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, Kent County Medical Society Alliance, Spectrum Health, and others are helping.

That support has built a foundation and allowed the Healthy Homes Coalition to develop and prove a model for helping families.  More support will help the Healthy Homes Coalition double-down to serve the many families that are still waiting.