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Colorado teen hopes research participation helps future generations of asthmatics
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Lyric Enger of Colorado Springs hopes that her participation in a research study will help future generations with asthma
Lyric Enger of Colorado Springs hopes that her participation in a research study will help future generations.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Wearing bright reflective blue sunglasses that match her hair, 13-year-old Lyric Enger tells Rocky Mountain PBS of her passion for many hobbies—everything from science, Legos, and robotics class to all kinds of sporting activities.

“This is my first skateboard. It has lots of stickers I just love,” she describes, pointing out the variety of colorful decals that seem to match her energetic personality. Lyric is also a member of her school’s track team. She runs the 100 and 200 meter dash and throws shot put. Suffice it to say, the outdoors in Colorado is Lyric’s favorite place to be.

But not when she’s having a severe asthma attack.

“It's been for most of my life,” she says or her asthma. “I think I started to get it around when I was three or four years old.”

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Her mom, Adrienne Galindo, says Lyric has been hospitalized six times during severe asthma attacks. Each time has meant an extended hospital stay and time away from school. Simple activities can trigger big problems.

“She hasn't really experienced the same, normal childhood that most of us do,” Galindo adds.

Lyric suffers from exercise-induced asthma. Barometric changes, pollen and smoke from western wildfires all add to the risks.

“If it's really smoky out, I can't really go outside and do the things I love to do,” Lyric says.

“The pressure changes, the wind comes in, but really with the fires these last couple of years - it's been difficult,” Galindo adds. Both mom and daughter know that when Lyric starts to get lethargic and shows symptoms of a common cold, it could be an asthma attack.

“We instantly know now after years of practice we have to act right away. Otherwise, we know a hospitalization is probably in the future.”

Lyric’s doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado presented a unique opportunity. She could participate in  a new study to help her manage asthma symptoms and maybe, one day, help children in the future prevent attacks like the ones she has experienced growing up.

“I really thought that would be awesome because I'd be a part of science and history,” Lyric said.

Children’s Hospital Colorado awarded research money to focus on childhood asthma in urban settings 

“Lyric is in a study of severe asthma in children,” said Dr. Andrew Liu, a pediatric asthma specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.  He’s also a professor of pediatric pulmonary and sleep medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Most kids with asthma, they don't really have the kind of severe attacks that send them to the emergency room or the hospital, but for the ones that do, they actually are susceptible to doing it again,” said Liu, adding that while asthma may be common (around 10-15% of children experience it) his role with the new CAUSE (Childhood Asthma in Urban Settings) research network is to start thinking about different preventative treatments.

“[The] reason why is because children who have asthma in urban settings, they're particularly vulnerable to having severe attacks and [having] poor outcomes,” he said. With recent record-breaking Air Quality Index (AQI) alerts and rising pollution levels, Colorado’s Front Range is a good urban location to conduct research.

[Related: High levels of ozone in Denver creates unhealthy conditions for residents]

Young patients like Lyric are helping by participating in the CAUSE research.

“We're always trying to do three things. We're trying to improve how things are managed today. We're trying to make discoveries that are game changers that can transform how we treat in the future, prevent asthma all together. And, maybe the most important thing is that we want every child and family who partners with us to be better from their research participation now,” said Liu emphasizing that without these young patients and their parents, this research couldn’t happen. “They give a lot to us by partnering.”

It’s a team effort locally. Joining with National Jewish Health, Children’s Colorado will lead a study called WINDOWS. It will study pediatric emergency room visits for asthma symptoms—things like severe coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath—looking for “critical windows of time” and treating the patients with new therapies.

The researchers have a clear goal: prevent asthma as the toddlers grow older.

“Almost all asthma starts in early life and then it can become a lifelong condition,” Liu said. “We're concentrating a lot of effort to understand what's happening in these preschool-aged children who are developing asthma and then figure out what to do to keep it from continuing.”

Part of Lyric’s health routine now includes a rescue inhaler, wearing a mask on smoky days, the use of a variety of respiratory devices to clear airways, as well as an app on her phone to monitor daily medication and air quality.  She’ll continue sharing her experiences for at least the next year.

“I really hope that they find a cure to help asthmatics because with the smoky weather and the winter times, you can't really do a lot of things outside without having a mask on. So, I really hope that for the kids that do have asthma, that they can be happier and live a normal life,” she said.


Liu and researchers from six other pediatric hospitals nationwide that make up the CAUSE network will continue research with nearly $70 million of funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for the next seven years. Learn more here.

Jennifer Castor is the Executive Producer of Multimedia Content at RMPBS.  You can email her at jennifercastor@rmpbs.org.

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