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Spring 2022 - Safety

Asthma: A Patient’s Perspective

Image of asthma patient

BY ALL accounts, James Roe lives life in the fast lane. An accomplished professional race car driver from Ireland, James is currently competing in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the third and top-level rung of racing in the Road to Indy ladder system. Diagnosed with asthma as a young child, James says he refuses to let his health limit him personally or professionally. Besides racing, his passion is to serve as a role model for young people and encourage others to always follow their dreams.

BSTQ: When were you diagnosed with asthma?

James: I was diagnosed when I was about 8 or 9 years of age. I had asthma quite severely growing up, especially in the winters in Ireland when the weather was cold. It hindered my sports activities because, when competing in athletics, I had to be very careful and always had to carry inhalers. Thankfully, after my diagnosis, I was able to work with my doctor to formulate a plan to manage it. I still use the same type of inhaler today that I used when I was 5 years old.

BSTQ: Is cold weather still a trigger for your asthma?

James: Cold weather is one of my main triggers, and I try to stay clear of it. I live in Indianapolis now, and the climate is a lot milder here. As a youth, I played a lot of sports, from football to rugby, and found that overexertion was an asthma trigger as well. I also have allergies to pollen and horsehair, both of which can cause symptoms.

BSTQ: How do you manage your asthma as a professional race car driver?

James: Being around idling cars and breathing in exhaust fumes is something I have to be mindful about, but it has never stopped me. In motorsports, there are many variables, and it’s critically important for everyone on my race team to be on the same page. I have to let people around me know I have asthma. There’s no shame in it. My race team knows where my inhaler is if I need it. Another thing I have to be mindful of is the pressure racing puts on my body. Drivers experience gravity forces (G-forces) when accelerating, braking or changing directions, which place a lot of strain on the lungs. In some cases, there are three to four G’s pulling against my body, which is three to four times my body weight pulling me in a given direction.

BSTQ: Do you have a specific training regimen that helps you prepare for that kind of stress?

James: I spend a lot of time working out to keep my lungs strong and healthy in order to compete. I focus a lot on opening up the chest or lungs with stretches that maximize lung capacity.

BSTQ: Having asthma can put you at higher risk for severe complications with COVID-19. How have you managed that risk?

James: I just follow the guidelines and keep a mask on in crowded areas. I also got vaccinated as soon as it was available.

BSTQ: Tell me about your advocacy work.

James: Currently, it is through positive messaging via my motorsports campaign in Indy Lights. We have more than 70 million avid fans throughout North America. My goal is to put a positive spotlight on asthma to show it does not have to hold people back. When I tell children I have asthma, many are surprised. Too many kids believe they can’t do certain things because of their asthma. Then they meet me and see I’m in a high-adrenaline sport driving a race car 180 miles per hour, and they think, “He has asthma too, so why can’t I follow my dreams?” It’s a way to help people think differently about their asthma and their lives. I want them to believe their dreams are achievable. When they do, it’s a win for me.

BSTQ: Do you have any other advice for asthma patients?

James: First, listen to your body. You can’t turn a blind eye to symptoms. When asthma worsens, it becomes an issue you have to address. Next, find the right medication, and use it to your advantage so you can stop symptoms before they start. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it really is key. It’s exactly what I did from an early age. I never want to have the mindset of “I have asthma, I can’t do this.” I believe there’s nothing that can hold me back if I manage it successfully.

Trudie Mitschang
Trudie Mitschang is a contributing writer for BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.