Chat transcript: Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken on managing asthma
Amy Van Dyken
October 27, 1999
Web posted at: 9:50 a.m. EDT (1350 GMT)
(CNN) - The following edited transcript features a chat with Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken, who has lived with asthma since childhood. Van Dyken won four gold medals in the 1996 Olympics and is currently training for the 2000 games. She joined us October 22 to discuss successful ways to manage asthma.
Chat Moderator: Welcome to Health Chat. We are pleased to welcome Amy Van Dyken, Olympic swimmer and member of the Asthma All-Stars program, who is joining us to discuss how she overcame her challenges with asthma. People can find complete information on her athletic career at the U.S. Olympic swim team Web site at: http://www.usswim.org/olympics/vandyken.htm.
Amy Van Dyken: Hi! Thanks!
Question from Marty: Hello, Amy. Describe what it was like hearing the USA's national anthem after you won your Olympic medals.
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Amy Van Dyken: It was the best feeling I've had in my whole life. It was especially exciting because of the things I had to overcome with my asthma and falling down on the deck the first night with leg cramps. And even to this day I am thrilled when I hear the national anthem!
Chat Moderator: How old were you when your asthma started?
Amy Van Dyken: I was diagnosed when I was 18 months old.
Question from Marty: Hello Amy, are you still involved with swimming in some capacity or what are you doing today?
Amy Van Dyken: Yes, actually I'm training for the 2000 Olympics. I train six days a week, six hours a day. I'm heavily involved in swimming!
Question from Jason: Amy -- Have you ever had fears of having an asthma attack while in the water competing?
Amy Van Dyken: Never while I'm competing ... only because my races are so short. I don't think that physiologically that can happen in such a short race. But, I've been pulled out of the water many times during practice with asthma attacks.
Question from sweetie: Does having asthma really interfere with other things you like to do?
Amy Van Dyken: Yes, actually. I have all three types of asthma. So it interferes with almost everything I want to do from sleeping to laughing. But I've been able to work with my doctor on a good medication regimen so that it doesn't affect me as much.
Question from WendyCNN: What kind of medications are you on?
Amy Van Dyken: Oh my goodness.... Let's see... I'm on a Ventilin inhaler every day as needed. I'm on a Flovent inhaler twice a day; I'm on Serevent inhaler twice a day and a bunch of other stuff, LOL (she laughs out loud).
Question from mike: Hello Amy, I just wanted to know if you consider yourself a role model to kids with just asthma or all people, especially children?
Amy Van Dyken: I would like to be a role model to everybody, but especially to people with asthma, because my story shows that my asthma is so severe. It shows people that if I can do it, others can do it.
Question from spinneron: Amy, Hi. I'm asthmatic and I never really new I could breath better until I was properly medicated. I always thought I was out of shape. What was it like for you?
Amy Van Dyken: I have the same experience. Except that I've had it my entire life. I don't know how to breathe any differently, but I'm glad you got your asthma under control! Good luck!
Question from Marty: Hello Amy. Which athletes do you most admire?
Amy Van Dyken: John Elway is my ultimate hero! And I love him because he never gives up, no matter how far they are behind, he never throws in the towel. In every game he gave 100 percent.
Question from WendyCNN: Asthma is really in the news right now. Asthma is on the rise. Do you think it is a genetic problem or an environmental problem? What is going wrong?
Amy Van Dyken: I think its genetic because my father had it and I have it. I don't think there is anything wrong, but I think we can diagnose it better. I don't see the environment as a huge problem, just better ways of diagnosing asthma.
Question from mike: When you started swimming what kind of changes, if any, did you have to make to your exercise program because of your asthma?
Amy Van Dyken: Well, I started swimming when I was 6. Because of my asthma I couldn't swim the length of the pool until I was 12. Even now, when I swim 100 meters, it (sometimes) feels like 200. So I have to make sure to take all my medications and not to overdo it.
Question from Hi: When your parents heard you had asthma how did they react?
Amy Van Dyken: I think my mom was really upset, just thinking that I wouldn't have a normal life. Since my dad had asthma growing up, I don't think he had the same reaction. I think now they definitely feel that it was for the best, because I wouldn't be the person or athlete I am without it.
Question from Marty: Hello Amy. Is it difficult using the inhalers every day and does it interfere with your day-to-day activities?
Amy Van Dyken: Good question! It doesn't interfere with my activities because I'm on new inhalers that I don't have to take as often. I was on one inhaler I had to take 4 sprays 4 times a day. Now I'm on a comparable medication that only takes 2 sprays twice a day.
Chat Moderator: If you could send one message to kids who struggle with asthma, what would it be?
Amy Van Dyken: Not to let anyone hold you back, and to follow your own dreams, and to always aim for the stars ... because if you fall short you will land on the moon, and there aren't too many people on the moon!
Chat Moderator: When you were winning your gold medals in 1996, the press focused on how you overcame childhood asthma. Did you feel that you were overcoming something in order to win, or was that a press perception?
Amy Van Dyken: I think that would be a press perception for sure. Because I still live with asthma today. I haven't overcome anything! I think it made a good story. But it got people with asthma to see that if I could do it, they could do it
Question from WendyCNN: Do you think air pollution affects your asthma?
Amy Van Dyken: Yes, definitely. There are a lot of things that affect it since I have all three types of asthma. Some days just walking down the stairs affects it.
Question from WendyCNN: Can you tell me more about the three types of asthma?
Amy Van Dyken: I have exercise-induced asthma, which is obviously affected by exercising. I have allergy-induced asthma which means when I'm around something I'm allergic to it will affect my asthma. And I'm pretty much allergic to things that live, once lived, or ever could live! (LOL) And the third type is infection-induced asthma, so basically if I get a simple cold, it will usually end up causing problems with my asthma.
Question from maxx: Does change of the seasons affect your asthma?
Amy Van Dyken: Most definitely! I am the human barometer! I can almost predict with 95% accuracy when it will snow! (LOL)
Question from Wheezer: Have you tried any herbal remedies? I have heard of mulien oil, but have been unable to find it.
Amy Van Dyken: I have tried everything that anyone brings to me and says it can help. The problem is that asthma is such a serious disease, you can't rely just on herbal medicine. So you need to get with a good doctor and get a program to deal with your asthma. It is actually questions like this that have helped us launch a new campaign, "Asthma All Stars." If you call the 800 number, you can get a great packet to help you understand your asthma better and the new medications out there.
The number is 1 877 4 ALL STAR
Question from alice: I use Proventil and Azmacort. Should I consider asking my doctor to add one of these new drugs?
Amy Van Dyken: I would definitely ask him about it because I was on Azmacort and it was not as effective for me, so my doctor put me on the Flovent. So definitely ask if it would work for you.
Question from sweetie: My family thinks brother has asthma and I'm really sad.
Amy Van Dyken: Definitely go see a doctor and find out for sure if it is asthma. But if it is, don't be scared. It is something that can be taken care of with medication, and a lot of asthmatics become great athletes and great scholars. It shouldn't hold anyone back! I wish you the BEST of luck!
Question from Wheezer: I do a lot of hiking, and was considering taking along a portable nebulizer. Have you had any experience with these?
Amy Van Dyken: Oh yes. I have TWO! I have one that I leave at home or take with me to the ballpark, wherever, and one I leave at the swimming pool. I highly recommend that you get one. They are WONDERFUL!
Question from caapi: Do you use inhalers and do you think that their persistent use is harmful long term?
Amy Van Dyken: Yes, I use a bunch of inhalers everyday, and if there are any health risks, I can't really worry about those. Because I breathe at 65 percent of normal and without the inhalers I would die.
Question from mike: I know conditions such as asthma can restrict the activities that a person can do, I was just wondering how the restrictions (affect) your self esteem?
Amy Van Dyken: Oh wow. I usually just take it in stride. The thing about me is I'm so stubborn. If someone tells me I can't do something, I'll find a way to do it. And I do everything I can to make sure my asthma doesn't hold me back from doing something I want to do.
Question from Marty: Hello Amy. Describe what it was like competing in the summer Olympics?
Amy Van Dyken: It was the most exciting event I've ever been to. To be able to compete for my country on such a huge level was such an honor. I can't wait to go back.
Question from Pace: I am someone who has to use a rescue inhaler three or more times a week, and do not smoke. Do you know of any way to decrease usage of the rescue inhaler?
Amy Van Dyken: Definitely. Go talk to your doctor and be very honest with him about how many times you are using your inhaler. Also call the asthma hotline number that I gave previously. It will give you information about other medications that are out there to ask your doctor about.
Chat Moderator: You are now part of Asthma All-Stars, a group of athletes dedicated to raising asthma awareness. What do you hope to accomplish as part of this group?
Amy Van Dyken: We hope to raise the awareness of asthma and the fact that it doesn't have to hold you back from doing anything you want to do. And that there are new medications, so you don't have to rely on rescue inhalers. Also, so young asthmatics don't have to feel like they are the only ones who have asthma.
Chat Moderator: Question from , Could you repeat the phone number for the Asthma All-Stars program?
Amy Van Dyken: 1 877 4 ALL STAR
Question from caapi: I have been asthmatic for about 3 years, (I'm 23) and am worried about an asthma attack occurring that will not go away. I am wondering what percentage of non-smoking asthmatics develop C.O.P.D.
Amy Van Dyken: I have no idea what COPD is, but I know for the most part that most asthma attacks can be stopped with medication. If you are really concerned, bring up that concern with your doctor. A lot of times, asthma, while serious, is not as terrible as many people make it out to be.
Question from Pace: Public schools make it very difficult for students to have inhalers...you have to check them in at the main office and then go to the office every time you need to use them. Are there alternatives to inhalers that can be used at school?
Amy Van Dyken: Oh boy. I don't know about alternative inhalers to use at school. I always hid one in my pocket! This is where the new medications come into play so you won't have to use your rescue inhalers as much.
Question from chuck: Have you ever heard of Buteyko therapy? It has had success with thousands of patients in Australia. It works by restricting breathing so as to bring up carbon dioxide levels. People who try it usually are able to stop using their inhalers very quickly. It takes much longer however to be able to get off steroids.
Amy Van Dyken: No, I haven't heard of that. I'm actually myself, very leery of treatments that don't come through your doctor.
Question from AMookie: I know this is probably asked all the time, but do you keep your medal with you all the time, or keep it in a safe place?
Amy Van Dyken: I have all four of my medals from '96 in a frame with my swimsuit that I wore for my first gold, and swim cap that I wore from my 4th gold and the goggles I wore in the entire meet. It is hanging above my fireplace.
Question from maxx: Who inspired you to become a swimmer or did you know ever since you were a little kid that you'd be a world class swimmer?
Amy Van Dyken: Well I started swimming to relieve my asthma when I was 6. It was something that I loved and I never really aspired to be a great swimmer. I just kept doing what I loved to do and kept improving every year.
Question from Dana: I've had asthma since I was 8. It seems to have gotten worse as an adult and exercising becomes worse also. How do you manage your asthma with exercise? I'm 28.
Amy Van Dyken: I definitely notice that when I don't swim my asthma gets worse. Check with your doctor on medications that may make it better for you. Because having asthma doesn't mean that you have to suffer. There ARE things that can help you. Good luck!
Question from Jeffrey: Amy, I was a competitive swimmer for 10 years, and during that time we had five very good swimmers that had asthma. I always new that swimming was good for people with Asthma, but you wouldn't think it would be. Did swimming, working out hard, ever give you any episodes where you had problems?
Amy Van Dyken: Yes, all the time. The paramedics were rushed into the pool more times than I would like to admit. And that was only because I wasn't taking the right medications and I didn't have my asthma under control.
Question from maxx: Just wondering, did you ever had an asthma attack while you were asleep?
Amy Van Dyken: Oh yes, all the time! Actually, didn't sleep a full night until I was 23 years old. That's when I got my asthma under control. I remember many mornings waking up with my inhaler in hand, sitting up gasping for air. And it's definitely very scary, but that can be remedied.
Question from Sunny1: Can you tell us who else is involved in the Asthma All-Stars program?
Amy Van Dyken: It is Jerome Bettis from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jackie Joyner Kersee and myself.
Question from des: Swimming is more of an individual sport; how do you "live" with your teammates?
Amy Van Dyken: Very carefully! LOL. Seriously, I love my teammates, and while it is an individual sport, you need to have great people around you. They help to push you in practice, especially on days when you don't want to work. The majority of teammates you have become life-long friends.
Question from Marty: Hello Amy. Which other athletes who have been diagnosed with asthma?
Amy Van Dyken: There are so many out there. Pretty much my understanding is 60 percent or maybe more of the Olympians in '96 had asthma. There are many asthmatics in the NFL. And if you look in the NBA, baseball, hockey, you will find asthmatics everywhere.
Question from Marty: Hello Amy. What do you want to achieve at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney?
Amy Van Dyken: Oh my goodness! The pressure! LOL. I want to go do things that I didn't get a chance to do in Atlanta. I'm a perfectionist. The races in Atlanta were not perfect, so I would like to go in 2000 and rectify that. I'm not saying I'm going to repeat the 4 gold medals, but I'm not saying that I will leave all the gold in Australia, (tee hee hee).
Question from Dana: What do you think of inhalers that contain steroids in them?
Amy Van Dyken: I think that they are very good especially for severe asthmatics. It is an easy way to keep your asthma under control. A lot of people are worried that by using corticosteroids, you are stunting your growth. I have had to be on them to control my asthma my whole life, and I'm 6' tall! So if they do stunt growth, I say "thank goodness!"
Question from Dana: Are you concerned about any weight gain from steroids?
Amy Van Dyken: No, because they are not steroids in the term that a lot of people think of steroids. They are not muscle building and they are not as strong as the steroids people use for performance. I have seen no weight gain for me or other athletes I know who are on these medications.
Question from Jeffrey: Every January 1 our coach would make us swim
one-hundred 100-meter races (10 sets of 10 timed races). Sometimes I had a hard time breathing. (In your own experience) ... keeping an inhaler or other medications helped I'm sure. But besides paramedics, did you have oxygen or any other things handy that other coaches could keep handy in case of such an incident?
Amy Van Dyken: Yes, I would have a portable nebulizer. But I think a set like that would make even a normal person have a hard time breathing. Yikes! LOL.
Chat Moderator: Any final comments?
Amy Van Dyken: I want to thank everyone for joining today. I wish you all the best of luck in whatever you do. If you have any further questions about asthma, contact the Asthma All Stars hot line at 1 877 4 ALL STAR. Good luck and keep smiling! BYEEE!
Chat Moderator: Thank you for chatting with us, Amy Van Dyken!
Amy Van Dyken: Thank you!!!
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