Andrew’s story: Gold medalist kicks aerodigestive problems

With his asthma under control, Andrew holds the American flag after winning a gold medal

Last November, Andrew Warren stood on the podium in front of the American flag, grinning proudly as the medals around his neck glinted in the light. He had traveled to Orlando, Florida from his home in upstate New York to compete in the Karate and Kickboxing World Championships — and he delivered, taking home both a gold and a silver medal. It was an incredible accomplishment for a teenager once so ill that he made nearly three dozen visits to the emergency department before he was 6 years old.

As a child, Andrew was diagnosed with asthma and later with tracheomalacia, a condition in which the airway collapses during breathing. But the treatment for his conditions seemed to put him into a frustrating cycle: “He would have an asthma attack, be given albuterol, feel better and then crash again and need to return to the ER,” explains his mother, Jenn. “It was insane.”

‘You can’t keep living like this’

Like many families of chronically sick children, the Warrens often found themselves at the mercy of Andrew’s illness. Jenn spent sleepless nights checking on him to make sure he was still breathing. Her older daughter once had to leave the stage during a dance recital to accompany them to the ER. And Andrew still remembers the things he missed out on due to his breathing difficulties, from playing in basketball games to seeing Broadway shows.

When Jenn and her husband, John, returned from a trip, Andrew’s grandparents — who had cared for him during their travels — sat them down. “You can’t keep living like this,” they told them. The family began exploring other treatment options, a search that brought them to Boston Children’s Hospital. At his first appointment, Andrew, then age 6, saw specialists in otolaryngology, pulmonology and gastroenterology, including Dr. Rachel Rosen, director of the hospital’s Aerodigestive Center. “They really evaluated him as a whole child to come up with answers,” says Jenn.

Treatment for asthma and cyclical vomiting helped Andrew come out on top in karate championship

A dramatic change

Those answers led Andrew’s care team to make some significant changes to his care. After determining that the albuterol he took for asthma attacks was actually worsening his tracheomalacia, clinicians switched him to a different treatment. Rosen diagnosed him with cyclical vomiting — which also exacerbated his asthma — and prescribed medication to control the problem. Where he once took the steroid drug prednisone for 56 days, he now took just a 3-day dose. And his visits to the ER decreased dramatically to just one.

“It was a dramatic change,” Jenn remembers. Over the years, the family has been able to manage Andrew’s care with local clinicians and annual checkups in Boston, but they know they can count on Rosen to help ensure that he stays healthy. “She really listens to our concerns,” says Jenn. “When we have a question, we ask her first. She’s our go-to person.”

Now 14, Andrew plays basketball, soccer and lacrosse in addition to competing in karate — activities he could once only dream of participating in. But he’s not the only one who has benefited from his care: Things are also better for his sister and parents, who can enjoy life without late-night ER visits and other restrictions. “Coming to Boston,” says Jenn, “has changed all of our lives.”

Learn about the Aerodigestive Center.