Dashaun Burney said the violent wheezing that interrupts his dreams and threatens his life on some nights doesn’t scare him. Call it courage — or the blissful ignorance of a six-year-old boy.

Asthma afflicts one out of 12 children in Connecticut, and with the number of sufferers skyrocketing in the state and nationwide, pediatric health centers are scurrying to develop programs that will educate parents about asthma prevention and treatment. In an effort to lend them a hand, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut is now pushing for $50 million in federal funding for the Children’s Asthma Relief Act to be included in the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget for 2001.

“It seems like a modest amount of money that will do a lot of good,” Dodd said.

Under Dodd’s proposed Children’s Asthma Relief Act, $50 million would go toward grants for state and community-based organizations to support treatment, education and prevention programs.

“It’s not fun for him and it’s not fun for me,” Dashaun’s mother Jean Burney said. Dashaun has been suffering since he was three, when a case of pneumonia developed into asthma. But Burney has found relief for her son and for herself at the Hill Health Center on Columbus Street.

“If I didn’t have the help from the clinic, I don’t know what I’d do,” Burney said.

The center’s comprehensive asthma care program, Project AIR — or Asthma Improvement Resources — has been tremendously successful. After a year in existence, the days asthmatic children spent without symptoms surged to over 90 percent, emergency room visits for asthma attacks dropped to less than 1 percent, and 95 percent of children rated their asthma as “very good” or “excellent.”

All this, and asthma doesn’t even have a cure.

While the exact cause of asthma remains unknown, a child’s living environment can often be the root of the problem. Roach excrement, dust, and a cigarette smoker in the house can aggravate a child’s asthma. Connecticut’s percentage of asthmatic children is higher than the national average.

Dodd visited the Hill Health Center Monday to learn more about Project AIR, which promotes better home and school environments as part of its comprehensive attack on asthma. In addition, Project AIR enforces the importance of follow-up and preventive asthma visits and self-assessment questionnaires.

“We have come a long way in trying to prevent attacks, or if the attacks occur we can lessen the effect,” said Gabriel Haddad, head of respiratory medicine in the department of pediatrics and a professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine. “But we have a long way for cure.”

Haddad said that because there may be more than one mutation that predisposes children to asthma, children may be suffering from more than one illness — meaning there are no panaceas. He added that while steroids, “a gunshot approach,” are now popular, new medications which cater to individual patients are around the corner.

“It’s very possible in my mind that we will see the evolution and marketing of drugs that are better than what we have now,” Haddad said.

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