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Wrestling With Bouts of Pediatric Asthma

Wrestling With Bouts of Pediatric Asthma
The cover of Oscar and the Giant, a fotonovela created by USC School of Pharmacy professor Mel Baron

Asthma affects a startling 10 percent of all children under the age of 18, many of whom are not taking the appropriate medications, an issue that USC School of Pharmacy associate professor Mel Baron attempts to tackle in Oscar and the Giant, his latest fotonovela.

Pediatric asthma is the most common chronic condition among youth, affecting almost 7 million children in the United States. It is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among those under the age of 15, and it is the leading cause of missed school days among children ages 5 to 17.

“Asthma affects low-income, minority and inner-city populations at a greater rate, and these same populations are seeing higher morbidity and mortality rates as a result,” Baron explained. “In addition, Latino children are less likely than non-Latino white children to be taking the recommended daily medications.”

African-American children also suffer from disproportionally high rates of asthma, with 16 percent currently diagnosed as having asthma compared with 9 percent of non-Latino whites.

In order to effectively change behaviors, Baron and his team conducted research to see what myths regarding pediatric asthma were prevalent in Latino communities, and dispelled these myths in the fotonovela.

“We wanted to address common misconceptions about the disease, as well as provide information so that people better understand how to recognize and treat asthma in children,” Baron said.

Oscar and the Giant uses photos and words in a comic book-like fashion to tell the story of a boy struggling with asthma. Oscar visualizes his battles with asthma as a lucha libre fight, a form of professional wrestling popular in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.

Throughout the fotonovela, Oscar is faced with many obstacles related to his asthma, including bullying from classmates who tease him for losing his breath while playing sports, a father whose smoking is a constant irritant to his asthma and a failure to follow his medication regiment because Oscar’s father fears it will stunt his growth.

After going to the emergency room for an asthma attack, Oscar is put on the proper medications with the help of a physician and pharmacist, who rebuff the myth that asthma medications will prevent Oscar from growing. Once Oscar takes the appropriate medications to deal with his condition, he is able to take on asthma, lucha libre style, and beat his disease in the ring.

A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology concluded that educational intervention may improve asthma outcomes among at-risk Latino children. Sweet Temptations, a previously released fotonovela, empirically demonstrated an increase in diabetes awareness and knowledge within the exposed Latino community. “I hope that Oscar and the Giant will have the same positive impact,” Baron said.

The fotonovela was shot in Boyle Heights, a hub for the Latino community in Los Angeles. The wrestling matches were photographed at the famous Hollenbeck Youth Center, where champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya trained. The shoot featured two prominent lucha libre wrestlers, La Plaga and Johnny Starr, as well as aspiring actor Leonardo Garcia as Oscar.

Baron was the project director for the fotonovela, which was produced by Gregory B. Molina, also of the USC School of Pharmacy, photographed by Mike Powers and co-written by Josefina Lopez and Molina.

Lopez is a playwright, author and screenwriter, best known for writing Real Women Have Curves, a play that was adapted into a feature film. Funding for the project was provided by L.A. Care Health Plan, QueensCare, AmerisourceBergen and the National Association of Chain Drugstores.

This is the fifth fotonovela produced by Baron and the School of Pharmacy. Other titles include What My Girlfriend Didn’t Know, about birth defects, and Secret Feelings, regarding depression. Fiesta Fiasco, which deals with medication compliance, is currently in production.

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