Girl left in coma from asthma attack - then friend's solution changes everything

A little girl who was left in a coma after suffering a near-fatal asthma attack has inspired the design of a new kind of inhaler.

Doctors are hoping their new range of funky asthma inhaler case covers can potentially help to reduce deaths from the condition. The covers, in bright colours with unicorn and duck designs, were designed for Martha Bartle, six, after she suffered a near fatal asthma attack and spent a week in a coma.

Thankfully, brave Martha from York made a full recovery but was the inspiration for close family friend Will Hogge to design a funky case to help change her attitude to using her inhaler.

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Martha had refused to use her inhaler until Will came up with a unicorn case for it. Her parents then asked him to make more to help other families in the same position.

The UK has one of the poorest inhaler compliance rates in the developed world, particularly among children and teenagers, with only around 15 per cent using their devices as medics advise. It is thought many youngsters are put off by the look of the inhalers and are embarrassed to use them in front of peers.

Yet sadly four people die every day from asthma in the UK. Now, a new NHS study inspired by Martha is taking place at York Hospital to discover if the cases can save lives. Dr Andy Brookes, the paediatric consultant who’s leading the study at York Hospital, said: “We see around four people a day dying of asthma in the UK and we have one of the highest death rates because of asthma.

“So far we’ve seen really good, positive feedback on the inhaler covers from friends and families so it’ll be really interesting to see the results of this study.”

Will has now produced more than 50 different designs and has launched his own website The Inhaler Tailor. Martha’s parents Jo and Nic Bartle have decided to share her story to raise awareness of the issue of inhaler compliance for children with asthma.

Jo said: “It was like being in a real life nightmare. Martha was struggling to breathe and after several hours of the doctors trying to get her breathing under control her body started to shut down so they made the decision to put her into an induced coma to take over her breathing and allow her body to rest.

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“After one week they brought her out of the coma but she had to spend another week in hospital recovering from her ordeal.”

Martha was eventually discharged home but could not be persuaded to use her inhaler. Jo said: “She would refuse to take her inhaler each day and as a parent it was just awful to watch. You can’t get mad in that situation, and we tried everything to encourage her.

“It wasn’t until Will made her a unicorn inhaler case that she began to see it as something fun and less scary. She started calling it her unicorn spray. Straight away she started to use the inhaler and we noticed an almost immediate improvement in her health.

“We asked Will to make more cases as we knew there were thousands of others like Martha who could be helped by this idea. The case has helped her see asthma in such a different way. It’s taken away the stigma. She’s a lot less embarrassed of her inhaler and takes it without any fuss.”

Nic said: “It was a massive shock, a bit like an out of body experience. She was in a coma for a week and then she stayed a good week after that as well. She was on a lot of drugs, it was an emotionally traumatic time for sure.

“Before we got the funky inhalers there was a bit of resistance. It wasn't fun, we’d have to chase her round the house with it. All inhalers are now cool in our house, they're all customised, they're definitely Martha’s now.”

Designer Will said he hoped the new NHS study would raise awareness of the issues and help more children to fall in love with their inhalers. He said “It was such a shock when Martha ended up in hospital. She was always so full of energy but after the coma she was really struggling.

“Jo talked to me about their daily battle to get her to use her inhaler. I knew Martha was unicorn obsessed, like my own daughter, so I created a unicorn case to make the inhaler look pretty. Jo said Martha started proactively asking for her “Unicorn spray” each morning so that was amazing.

“After some encouragement I left my job to set up The Inhaler Tailor and my wife and I are now working on the business full time. It’s still in its early stages but we’ve made inhaler cases for thousands of people all around the world and the feedback has been incredible.

“All the respiratory doctors and nurses we’ve spoken to have loved the idea and the NHS is looking to do a study to measure how much our cases can improve inhaler usage.

“We’re now doing cases for six inhaler and spacer types and are adding new designs every few months, from rubber ducks to dinosaurs to Van Gogh, so people of all ages can find something they love.”

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