Date: May 02 2023

Contact: Jon Ebelt, Communications Director, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936, (406) 461-3757

‘Every Breath is a Gift’: New Talking Health in the 406 Episodes Celebrate National Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month

In recognition of National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month in May, the DPHHS Talking Health in the 406 podcast is releasing two episodes that share Billings resident Rachel Anderson’s story about her late daughter Mia’s complex and heartbreaking struggles with asthma.

In the episodes, Rachel tells the difficult and personal story of watching her daughter battle asthma for many years, before it eventually took her life in 2020 at the age of 23.

Through this two-part series, Rachel shares her entire journey, the many health challenges her daughter faced, and why she’s eager to share this important story. After finding support and strength through organ donation, she is now dedicated to educating other Montana families about the dangers of this often overlooked disease.

“I’ve been looking for ways to be an advocate (for people with asthma),” Rachel said. “When people think of asthma, they don’t often think of it as a big deal, or that it can be life-threatening. My goal is to advocate and get the message out there about how serious it is. Even if I can help one person by sharing Mia’s story, then it’ll be worth it.”

According to DPHHS health officials, many people consider asthma to be an easily treated childhood disease. However, every year at least seven people in Montana die from asthma.

“Seven deaths may not seem like a lot, but any preventable death is one too many, especially for families who experience this tragedy,” said DPHHS Health Education Specialist Jennifer Van Syckle, who interviewed Rachel for the podcast. “ Watching a loved one struggle to breathe and waiting for improvement can be some of the most stressful moments in life. Asthma can be treated, attacks prevented, but in some cases it can be very difficult to control.”

Asthma is a very common, chronic condition which affects the lungs. Airway passages can narrow and become obstructed with thick mucus, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. It can be genetic or caused by factors in one’s environment, such as secondhand smoke or work-related exposures. The severity of an asthma attack can range from mild to life threatening.

Some people with asthma are generally symptom-free, with occasional mild episodes of shortness of breath. Others cough and wheeze frequently and experience severe attacks after viral infections, exercise, or exposure to allergens or irritants.

In Montana, an estimated 94,000 people have asthma. Over one third of those can’t recognize early warning signs of an asthma attack and nearly half have limited their activities due to asthma. Taking an Asthma Control Test and following up with a health care provider with the results can be the first step to gaining control of the disease.

“Many people don’t recognize that being able to sit and take a breath is a gift in itself,” says DPHHS Asthma Control Program Manager BJ Biskupiak. “If you or someone you know has asthma, you know how scary it can be when you can't catch your breath. The first step is learning about asthma and how to manage it.”

Biskupiak says the Montana Asthma Home Visiting Program is a resource for anyone wanting general information and how to access services. The program provides free asthma education for people of all ages with uncontrolled asthma. The program includes nine sites that provide in-home visits to 24 counties, while virtual home visiting options are available in all 56 counties.

Talking Health in the 406 is a story-based podcast with goals of educating and sharing information. This series is available wherever you listen to podcasts. For more information or to listen, visit The Montana Asthma Control Program is committed to improving the quality of life for all Montanans with asthma. For more information about the program, visit


Photo caption: Pictured below is Rachel, left, and Mia Anderson. 

Portrait Photo of Rachel and Mia Anderson