LEADERS • HEROES • ICONS
Breathing Easy for 20 Years
Over two decades ago a little boy named Christopher overheard nurse Liz Boden talking to his mother about the growing asthma problem in Bermuda. When he heard Boden say there
were asthma-suffering children in Bermuda without proper beds to sleep
in, he mulled over this terrible thought and decided he wanted to help.
After doing a little extra work around the house he earned ten dollars to
donate to this worthy cause, and off he went to take this money to Boden.
Only seven dollars and fifty cents actually made it to Boden, however,
as little Christopher was unable to resist the tempting candy he saw in a
shop along the way. Still, this was the very first donation that Open Airways
received. This year, the Bermuda registered
charity celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Open Airways is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of over 8,000
people in Bermuda whose lives are affected
by asthma and other long-term breathing difficulties. Approximately one in five
children and one in ten adults in Bermuda
“Asthma is a genetic condition, and in a
small community the asthma/allergy gene
will be shared more easily,” said Open Air-
ways founder Liz Boden. “The warm climate
with high humidity encourages the growth
of mould and dust mites in our homes and
work places. Our island is beautiful, full of
trees, flowers and grasses—it is more like a
large botanic garden—which is not ideal for
people with asthma and allergies.”
Boden herself has suffered from severe
asthma all her life, which is what brought
forth her boundless passion for helping other
asthma sufferers. As a child she was constant-
ly in and out of the hospital because at that
time there were no preventer medications,
In 1990 she heard about an Asthma
Diploma Course where she could study in
Bermuda for six months and then take two
days’ worth of exams in England. At this time
about a quarter of a million people were dying
from asthma each year.
“In the early 1990s asthma education
WRITTEN BY TERRI MELLO | PHOTOGRAPH BY ANN SPURLING
was in its infancy,” she said, “and there was a lot of excitement around the
world about the new way of thinking about asthma care…The goal is con-
trol. The patient must learn how to manage and fine-tune their treatment
according to their symptoms.
“I was very excited with my asthma diploma under my belt, and I
thought I would easily be able to help everyone in Bermuda. How wrong
I was! I had no idea the size of the problem!”
People poured through the doors of her office reaching out for help.
Boden quickly realised there was a great need for more health profession-
als with specialist asthma training.
Today Open Airways consists of five staff members who continu-
ously labour to help Bermuda, and their efforts have yielded
an astounding 76 percent decrease in asthma-related
hospital admissions. Open Airways has also trained 287
doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists to
Asthma Diploma level,
helped to establish the
Asthma Education Centre
at KEMH, worked with the
Department of Health to estab-
lish an islandwide school asthma
education programme, and initiated
the Pillows for Prevention programme
in which every child with asthma gets a
new pillow every year. Open Airways also
distributes spacer devices to ensure proper use
of inhalers and works with the Department of
Social Services to help disadvantaged families
who have asthma by buying them beds and
improving the home environment.
While the future indeed looks positive, Boden
says there is still much work to be done. While
asthma-related hospital admissions are down,
emergency room visits have increased alarmingly.
This points to failed asthma management, such
as taking preventer medications and having a
personal asthma action plan. These are all easy
fixes, Boden says, if people only knew.
“This is the easiest job I have ever had,” she
said. “Asthma is easy to control! It’s all about
education. Bermuda is such a special place. I love
seeing people wherever I go and hearing that
they are now breathing freely.”