Playing without taking a breather
Healthy Hoops celebrates 15 years of coaching children with Asthma and showing them how to live life without the fear of their illness holding them back.
The Healthy Hoops program celebrated its 15th Anniversary on Saturday, September 9th. The Healthy Hoops program was created back in 2002 by AmeriHealth Caritas and Keystone First, its Southeastern Pennsylvania Health Plan, to address the growing issue of Asthma in America’s youth. For many children, Asthma is one of the leading chronic illness in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Families were invited to Universal Audenried Charter High School in South Philadelphia to educate themselves on their children's illness, all while having fun in the process.
At every Healthy Hoops event, the trained staff is on hand to give children free health screenings. These screenings include measuring the children’s body mass index, taking their blood pressure, and determining any existing or potential health issues. A major part of the screenings is to help identify children who may have asthma, then to properly educate them on how to handle the illness while maintaining a normal life.
Susanne Kramer is one of the founding partners of Healthy Measures, LLC, who have conducted the screenings at Healthy Hoops for the past 5 years. Kramer stressed the importance of testing, then teaching the children and their parents or guardians on how to handle their asthma effectively.
“The kids need to have parameters for good, healthy diets, how much exercise they should be getting, and these children that have asthma often times are walking around with that asthma uncontrolled,” said Kramer. “It’s a huge educational piece around their asthma results.”
One of the many families who attended this year's Healthy Hoops was Desriee Johnson and her four children.
Johnson’s two sons, John-Lee and Micheal Leigh, both suffer from Asthma. So she decided to bring them to Healthy Hoops for a health screening and to learn more about their illness. Her children’s Asthma hinders her children different ways. As a parent, she finds it difficult to help them manage it.
“It gets hard, especially when I already don’t know what to do for asthma,” said Johnson. “It’s still a struggle.”
The staff on hand were able to better inform Johnson on her children’s illness, offering her information on many things that have an impact on a child’s Asthma such as their diet, use of medication, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. All of which have an influence on one’s Asthma.
Along with the information provided, Johnson was given two Asthma Spacers for her children to use. The spacers, which are a device that can be attached to an existing inhaler, will allow her children too properly, and efficiently, take their medication.
Out of Johnson two sons, John-Lee suffers from the illness more than Micheal Leigh. Johnson stated that John-Lee’s Asthma causes him to lay around the house most days and do nothing. This keeps him from playing two of his favorite sports: football and Basketball.
When John-Lee does play, his time on the court or on the field is minimal, all due to his illness. After running around for a certain amount of time, John-Lee’s chest begins to hurt and he is forced to the sidelines to take a puff from his inhaler. Shortly after he takes his medication, John-Lee is back and ready to play, but eventually he must return to take another puff of his inhaler. Continuing the cycle of his life as an asthmatic.
After the children received their free screenings, they were then invited to take place in multiple fun activities provided at the event. These activities included children's yoga and a performance by Sterlen Barr and his dance group Special EFX, but what many of the children present look forward to was playing some basketball.
In the gym at the High School, hundreds of children took to the court and were coached on the “how to’s” of basketball by some of Philadelphia’s local Legends. Some of the many renowned coaches on hand to help teach the children were Bill Fox (the winningest coach in Philadelphia Catholic League Basketball history), Sonny Hill (one of the first African American NBA broadcasters), and Speedy Morris (who has been inducted into 10 Basketball Halls of Fame).
While the children, their families, and coaches were out on the court, others gathered for a reception to celebrate the 15 years of Healthy Hoops and pay homage to those who made it possible.
Two of the figures honored for their hand in the creation of Healthy Hoops and its continued success were Daniel Hilferty and Paul Tufano.
Hilferty, President and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, and his fellow founders saw the rise in cost to care for young people suffering Asthma back when they created Healthy Hoops. Hilferty knew something should be done to bring awareness to this illness and help those burdened by the costs of managing it. That’s when Healthy Hoops was born.
“I’ve always been a basketball enthusiast,” said Hilferty. “I thought ‘if we could combine teaching families, parents, guardians about how best to care for a child with asthma, while at the same time have great legendary coaches instruct young people, in a safe environment, how to be active, It would be a home run.’ ”
And a home run it has been. With 15 years under Healthy Hoops belt, Hilferty looks towards the past to better predict the future of the program. Although he is one man, Hilferty attributes the success of the program to all the dedicated health professional, civic and corporate leaders and the volunteers who also have the driving desire to provide aid for America's youth.
Tufano, the Chairman and CEO of AmeriHealth Caritas, sees the stigmas that come with having Asthma being something that will keep children from doing the things that they love. Tufano stated that the healthcare system isn’t the simplest thing to traverse or understand when looking for help or information. That makes it all the more reason for programs like Healthy Hoops to expand and show people why they shouldn't be afraid of their illnesses.
To date, the Healthy Hoops program has been active in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, South Carolina, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia. Surely, as AmeriHealth Caritas grows so will Healthy Hoops. As they grow, the stigmas will linger. It will be their job to help people understand that there are help and advice available for dealing with a child's asthma.
“Taking care of your health doesn’t have to be anything that you have to be embarrassed about or intimated about,” said Tufano, “and I think that’s what we try to do with healthy hoops.”