It may seem like an isolated event but, oftentimes, one family member’s sudden diagnosis or health episode prompts lifestyle overhauls for the whole crew, especially if genetic or environmental factors are involved. Here, we talked with three families who tweaked their homes and habits after a close call.
Laura Kellogg and her family used to live in a place that took their breath away—literally. All three of her children had asthma while living in Springfield, Massachusetts, which she later learned was known for its poor air quality. (It was ranked the no. 1 asthma capital in 2019 by the Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America.)
Laura's kids used inhalers constantly, visited the emergency room on occasion, and took oral steroids for severe flare-ups. Her older kids missed at least 30 school days a year each. But when the pulmonologist recommended daily steroid use, she drew the line. In 2007, the family moved 700 miles away to Wilmington, North Carolina, one of the best cities for air quality, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report.
The contrast is astounding, says Kellogg, whose kids were 8, 6, and 2 at the time. “My older son, Camryn, now plays the saxophone—he didn’t have the lung function to play a wind instrument in Massachusetts!—and both my daughter, Chiara, and younger son, Luca, sing in their school chorus, and they can enjoy sports,” she says.
"They still carry rescue inhalers and take daily asthma meds, but their oral steroid use is almost non-existent and attacks are rare," she adds.
While their no-smoking, no-carpeting home uses air filters, “your outside environment can’t be [controlled]," Kellogg explains. "Air pollution doesn’t stay in its own zip code.” In Springfield, the change of seasons was always a trigger, ragweed was very bad, and in summer ozone pollution was higher. But in Wilmington, there’s always an ocean breeze. “It’s Mother Nature’s air filter. The breeze washes the triggers away.”
Kellogg, a registered nurse, became a certified asthma educator “to help other families who suffered the way ours did—I know lots of people don’t have the flexibility to just move," she says. Camryn founded a clear-air club at his college, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Zen Honeycutt's family faced a series of health scares: Her 5-year-old son went into anaphylactic shock after Thanksgiving dinner because pecans were in the stuffing and all three of her sons suffered countless food allergies. So the Mission Viejo, California, family switched to eating only organic food at home.
First, they limited consumption of foods containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms, added in labs to produce desired traits in foods), and later went entirely GMO-free. After 4 months, things vastly improved. “After we went GMO-free, my son’s 19 food allergies, from nuts to dairy, dropped to 0.2," says Honeycutt. "One day after eating cashews by accident, he didn’t even get a rash.”
Tests of her son’s urine showed high amounts of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, a popular pesticide whose use on public land is now banned or restricted in many California cities, counties, and school districts, Honeycutt's included, due to health concerns and thousands of lawsuits. But after going organic more than 3 years ago, the difference in the kids’ health has been dramatic.
Organic food costs more, but the health benefits and long-term savings are worth it, she says. The Honeycutts cut back on expensive vacations, electronics, clothing, and eating out. “Before going organic, we were spending $15,000 on doctor visits after insurance. Eating at home is so cost-effective. By making French fries at home, I can save $917 a year alone.”
“I was once constantly on the lookout for what food might harm my kid—he might eat a cookie with a nut in it,” she says of Ben, her oldest, who was just 6 months old and getting frequent rashes when his milk allergy was detected. “The peace of mind I now have that my son won’t die from a food allergy is incredible,” says Honeycutt, who founded Moms Across America, a nonprofit that promotes awareness of harmful food ingredients.
One week before his 17th birthday, Kaeyel Moore went into cardiac arrest during high-school basketball practice. After the San Antonio, Texas, teen collapsed, his life was saved by his school’s assistant athletic trainer, who tried CPR, then grabbed an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock his heart, which, after 15 rounds of compression, began to beat again. Eight months later, after surgery to implant a pager-sized defibrillator in his chest to send electrical pulses to his heart if needed, Kaeyel was able to play again.
For his mother, LaKisha Moore-Hamilton, it was a wake-up call for her family of nine children, including five kids under 18. From diet, exercise to noticing their surroundings, their whole routine has changed,
“Now we walk into a place and ask where the AED is," she says. "We’re more aware, maybe we can help other people. All my kids learned how to do CPR. Every few months we pull out CPR kits from the American Heart Association for my younger kids, who do it to a song.” (The AHA teaches doing hands-only CPR to the Bee Gees tune “Stayin’ Alive”; its steady beat and pace perfectly match the hard and fast compressions needed.)
The family added fish, lots of vegetables, and fresh fruit to their diet, and reduced their sugar intake by 60 percent.
Ironically, Moore-Hamilton says, Kaeyel, now 18, “wasn’t a big sugar person;” he drank water “all day long,” and was in shape. There was no history of heart disease on her or her husband’s side and doctors couldn’t find a reason for his cardiac arrest. “That makes it even scarier,” she says.
But she’s taking no chances. “We’re definitely more active—now we go to the gym together three to four days a week. Before, it was maybe three or four times a month.” Kaeyel’s handsome face promoting CPR is now on local billboards. Moore-Hamilton also left her job as an office manager to spend more time with her family.
“I don’t ever want to get that phone call again,” she says.