Burton Rocks was not born with asthma but contracted it as a child (from a bad flu shot) and experienced three code blues before he was 9 years old. The first time it happened, Rocks was 3.5 years old and faced death alone in dark hospital room. Rocks explained to me that one reason asthma has never been understood is because so many people who have died from it were never able to tell their stories. There have been as many as 250,000 annual asthma-related deaths worldwide.
Most people -- myself included -- are aware that asthma exists, although we know very little about the disease. Asthma attacks are sudden, violent and often life threatening. Nearly 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. During an attack the airway constricts and it affects the ability to breathe -- often resulting in acute respiratory distress.
"Asthma is a silent killer," said Rocks. "When we see someone with a cast on their arm or leg we're aware that they've suffered an injury, but asthma is a disease you can't see, and kids who have it are often misunderstood and as a result they get bullied." Children with asthma often miss school and can become outcasts. "When you're not there as a little kid, it's hard to be part of a group," said Rocks. "You're different."
As a child, his asthma left him frail and frequently homebound. Rocks suffered from continual bullying but ultimately had the strength to overcome it because of his passion for sports. He was an avid sports fan and wanted to play baseball but was often too sick to attend practice. Rocks channeled his enthusiasm for sports into collecting memorabilia and learning everything possible about baseball, which eventually led him to become a bestselling author. He co-wrote Me and My Dad: A Baseball Memoir, with Paul O'Neill, which made The New York Times bestseller list in 2003. Rocks also holds a degree from Hofstra Law School and is a successful sports agent.
As a result of growth spurts late in life, Rocks was fortunate enough to overcome asthma and at 41 years old he enjoys an active and productive life. Part of his time is spent educating people about living with asthma and how to prevent the bullying connected with it, as it happens not only in the schoolyard but in the workplace as well. Unfortunately, because asthma doesn't present us with any external tangible existence, adult sufferers are often maligned at the office. Rocks is on a mission to help people with and without asthma and I can't think of a better representative.
"People in all walks of life can learn lessons from asthmatics," said Rocks.
I certainly have.
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