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Grieving parents speak out after unexpectedly losing 9-year-old son in medical emergency: 'This time was just different'

"[The hospital] tried everything."

Photo Credit: GoFundMe

A 9-year-old boy from British Columbia, Canada, died from an asthma attack said to be made worse by wildfire smoke.

Carter Vigh was admitted to the emergency room on July 11 when his coughing wouldn't ease. Doctors, nurses, and paramedics performed CPR for 25 minutes when he became unconscious, but it wasn't enough to prevent the tragedy, CBC News reported.

What happened?

Wildfires across the British Columbia region have led to seriously poor air quality because of the spread of smoke. 

According to CBC News, Carter's family home is near the district of 100 Mile House, and B.C.'s government data showed the air quality health index (AQHI) around Kamloops (120 miles away from 100 Mile House, and the closest data point available) was a 6 on the day of Carter's death. Such a rating warrants at-risk people to "consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous activities outdoors if you are experiencing symptoms," the government of Alberta explains

At the time, smoke from more than 360 wildfires would have caused serious problems for people with preexisting respiratory conditions. 

Carter, who was a lifelong asthma sufferer, had been out with friends during the day, but he began coughing when he returned home in the evening. After he was admitted to the emergency room, staff at the local hospital took charge of the situation.

"They tried everything," Carter's mother, Amber, told CBC. "I just stood there and just told him that I loved him and just to breathe. This time was just different."

Amber and husband James told CBC News that the coroner said Carter's death was likely caused by an asthma attack worsened by the smoky air, although it is still under investigation. 

The family has set up a GoFundMe to help cover unexpected costs.

Why does wildfire smoke cause asthma attacks?

According to the Allergy & Asthma Network, wildfire smoke, which can "travel thousands of miles," can cause lung irritation and inflammation when inhaled. 

The American Lung Association notes that wildfire smoke contains carbon monoxide, which "reduces oxygen delivery to the body's organs and tissues" if inhaled.

What can be done to prevent asthma attacks amid wildfires? 

Checking local advisories on air conditions is crucial. People in Canada can find AQHI data on the government's website, while those in the United States can check AirNow.gov.

Staying indoors and keeping windows and doors closed while setting air conditioners to "recirculate" mode are all tips to avoid particle inhalation.

Otherwise, avoiding physical activity is advised, as heavy breathing can increase the inhalation of harmful substances in the air.

Our overheating planet is leading to hotter, drier conditions, which allow wildfires to begin and spread. Making lifestyle changes — such as switching to an electric car, utilizing solar or wind power at home, or recycling and composting household waste — are among the measures you can take to reduce your output of harmful pollution and help cool the planet. 

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