Peter DeMarco’s wife Laura Levis died in September 2016 after an asthma attack. Since her death, he’s become an advocate for asthma awareness. He shared his thoughts about what happened with TODAY.
When Laura felt the asthma attack starting that morning in 2016, she thought she could handle it alone. After 10 years of managing her asthma, she did understand what to do in most cases — she knew when she needed nebulizer fluid and when she needed to visit a hospital.
But that morning, so many unexpected things occurred. When she arrived at the hospital after a short walk at 4 a.m., the doors to the emergency room were locked. When she called 911, emergency responders couldn't find her. By the time Laura arrived inside the hospital, she was in cardiac arrest. For seven days, she lingered on life support and we held out hope. But she did not survive. She was 34.
The morning of her last asthma attack, Laura felt she had the situation under control. She skipped a taxi, knowing it would be faster to walk. Laura probably thought this asthma attack would be like the others.
It’s hard to realize that a person you love so much misjudged a situation. But I think Laura would want me to share this message even if she was an example of what not to do. Laura tried to manage this attack on her own, but she needed help. I've come to realize that it's essential people with asthma tell someone they are having an attack and seek help. Having someone with you during an attack to calm you can slow the attack and make a huge difference.
Everything that happened that day was outside of Laura’s control. The circumstances surrounding Laura's experience are so rare, yet the unexpected can happen to anyone undergoing an asthma attack. Every day, 10 people die from an asthma attack, which amounts to about 3,600 people dying every year. These deaths should be preventable. But every asthma attack looks differently and that can create a false sense of security. One might end in 30 seconds. But the next one could end with the person gasping for breath.
When you have an asthma attack, you don’t know what happens next. Laura was a fighter and believed she could manage her asthma attack alone. But she needed help.
That’s why I shared her story. When it comes to asthma, people need to expect things can and do go wrong.
It’s important for people with asthma and their loved ones to understand what asthma is and what needs to be done during an attack. Having your asthma controlled reduces the chance of death from it. Seeking regular care from an allergist or pulmonologist, and crafting a strategy can prevent such tragedies and remains essential to good asthma care. Asthma management plans might include:
- Taking asthma medication
- Understanding the signs of an attack
- Staying away from triggers
- Acting quickly
If death can happen to someone as smart, healthy, young and vibrant as Laura, it can happen to anyone. She hiked mountains, competed in weight lifting contests and enjoyed 90-minute spin classes. As strong as she was at 5 feet 2 inches tall, those muscles couldn't help her overcome her attack.
For almost three years, I have been trying to create a legacy befitting of my wife: One that saves people’s lives. I know that Laura’s spirit is still alive, guiding me to help others. Raising awareness is what she would have wanted. I just wish she were by my side to help me share it.
DeMarco, a freelance journalist, explored the reasons for Laura's death in a Boston Globe Magazine article and wrote a blog about asthma deaths for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. He’s also starting a foundation, Lift4Laura, to pay for gym memberships for women experiencing abuse or who cannot afford it.