When Ashley Marie Hierrezuelo, 12, left her dance practice three months ago, she didn’t feel well and asked to go to the hospital. Her parents figured it was another asthma attack that could be easily dealt with. But upon their arrival at the hospital, Ashley was given multiple treatments that didn’t help and resulted in her lungs continuing to fail.
“She just had asthma. That’s not supposed to shut down her lungs,” said Ashley’s father, Abdel Hierrezuelo, 40.
Ashley spent seven days on an ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine, 14 days on a breathing tube and another week on the respiratory observation floor for recovery.
She went from dancing and enjoying her everyday childhood to recovering from a drug-induced coma, having to re-learn everything, including how to walk, write and eat.
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“I forgot how to hold a pencil,” Ashley said.
While in the hospital, Ashley’s family found support by starting a Facebook page called, “Prayers for Ashley,” which had more than 50,000 posts and “likes” days after creating it.
Now that Ashley is fully recovered, she and her family want to raise awareness for asthma victims and their families.
From 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Ashley’s Asthma Awareness Foundation Kick Off will take place at Amelia Park, 401 E. 65th St. in Hialeah, to raise awareness and funds for families that cannot afford expensive asthma equipment and treatment. Everyone is welcome to attend the fundraiser.
“There are two missions to our foundation: The first is having that awareness, and the second is to adopt families. And we can help their children get better by helping pay for their medication,” said Jessica Hierrezuelo, Ashley’s mother.
Jessica didn’t notice the warnings signs before Ashley’s bronchioles became so inflamed that it resulted in the shutting down of her lungs.
“Up until that point, we had a very false sense of security about our knowledge of asthma,” Abdel said.
This false sense of security became a major motivation for Ashley and her family to begin Ashley’s Asthma Awareness Foundation.
Through their experience, Ashley and her parents became more aware of asthma and the ECMO machine, a form of life support and the cause of her drug-induced coma, which served as a replacement for her non-responsive lungs. Through two metal tubes strategically placed in Ashley’s neck through an artery and a vein, the ECMO machine removed the carbon dioxide and oxygenated her blood.
Christina Forcine, a nurse and an ECMO specialist at the hospital, was one of many caring for Ashley during her stay in the hospital.
“I’ve been a nurse for 16 years, and I have never seen someone with that bad of an asthma attack,” said Forcine. “I have never had someone go on ECMO for just an asthma attack.”
Now, after three months of recovery, Ashley is back to school with straight A’s, hoping to compete in her national dance competition at the end of June and to make a difference in the asthma community and she is proud of her recovery.
“That’s my battle scar,” Ashley said pointing to the scar on her neck from the ECMO machine.
IF YOU GO
▪ What: Ashley’s Asthma Awareness Foundation Kickoff
▪ When: 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday
▪ Where: Amelia Earhart Park, 401 E. 65th St., Hialeah
▪ Contact: Jessica Hierrezuelo, 305-310-1859 or visit www.facebook.com/ashleysasthmaawareness