In 2014, Kiarna Collard was diagnosed with bronchiectasis, the chronic lung disease that can develop if wet cough is untreated.
Managing the disease is traumatic for the now nine-year-old, who must spend long periods – up to a month at a time – hospitalised in Perth more than 2,000 kilometres away from her family in Djarindjin, a community of 300 people about 170 kilometres north of Broome, on the Dampier Peninsula.
She must also manage the disease in between hospital visits, relieving her symptoms with a nebuliser, a portal under her arm for medication, and chest physiotherapy two to three times a day.
Mother Belinda Sampi, a Community Navigator in Djarindjin, said the trips to hospital were tough for her young daughter, who not only missed her family, including her five brothers, when she was away, but suffered educationally from missing so much school.
Given this personal experience with chronic lung disease, Mrs Sampi was only too happy to back the Telethon Kids Institute’s wet cough program in the Kimberley.
She first learned of the program from Telethon Kids senior researcher and wet cough program lead Dr André Schultz, whom she met through Kiarna’s attendance at regular respiratory clinics he ran in Broome.
Keen to educate others in Djarindjin, Mrs Sampi helped the team launch the wet cough project in the community. She continues to spread the message through friends and family, and has urged the local school to educate students and parents about the need to treat wet cough early.
“I said from the start, I’d like to help to educate people around illnesses like wet cough because I deal with it around my little one and I’d hate to see someone go through the same situation as we are,” Mrs Sampi said.
“It could be a lifetime condition for Kiarna and has a big impact on her. The message is that it’s important to get to it when kids are young, so it doesn’t impact later in life.
“When children have a cough, some parents here still think it’s just a normal cold, so it’s a matter of educating parents that if kids have that cough for more than four weeks, it’s damaging their lungs.
“Personally, I think it’s very important to get the message across because I wasn’t aware when my little one was diagnosed, so I did more research about what it does and what we can do to help.
“It’s good to see this type of education in our community.”