Mena’s Story: Homebound High Schooler to Collegiate World Traveler

Mena was a freshman in high school when the asthma symptoms she had been dealing with for years escalated sharply. 

Mena’s asthma was manageable when she was in the second grade, but when in middle and high school, her symptoms grew worse and included frequent wheezing and difficulty breathing. For Mena, almost anything could trigger her symptoms including environmental allergens like dust and mold, and food allergens like nuts. By the time Mena had reached ninth grade, asthma was taking over her life. 

“She couldn’t travel anywhere or volunteer anywhere without coming back congested,” explains her mother, Madhavi, who’s a primary physician. 

A common cold could turn into a serious chest infection for Mena. “She would end up with difficulty breathing and congested chest and airways,” says Mena’s dad, Srinivas. To treat her symptoms, Mena received regular oral steroids, but it often would take time to bring her relief. 

Mena missed 5½ weeks of school her freshman year due to her asthma and ended up in the Emergency Room after a particularly severe asthma attack.

Initially, her doctors prescribed high-dose steroids to calm the inflammation, but the steroids were not as effective as doctors had hoped. Searching for answers, Mena’s family sought out other experts including a local pediatric pulmonologist. Unfortunately, Mena’s asthma did not respond to standard treatments.

When Mena was a baby, she was diagnosed with several IgE-mediated food allergies and asthma. Her parents, both of whom are medical doctors, grew accustomed to managing her allergies.

“She’s had reactions to every nut and legume you can think of,” explains her dad. “She would break out into a rash, hives, have difficulty breathing, and could have an anaphylactic reaction. That’s why we have to watch like hawks and make sure when we are in a restaurant that the food is safe for her.”

While Mena and her family could manage her food allergies with extra caution and care with her diet, Mena’s asthma quickly became a force of its own. Over the years, it increased with such severity and frequency that it was tough to control the symptoms.

The family eventually found a local specialist who put her on a biologic medicine. A blood test measuring the amount of IgE in Mena’s blood — an antibody the immune system creates in response to allergens — confirmed that Mena would respond well to the biologic medication. The test also helped determine how much of the medication she would need and how often she should take it. Mena began injections of the biologic therapy in August 2016, and continues to receive the medication every three to four weeks.

“I can tell a big difference,” Mena’s mom says. “Mena used to get sick as soon as school started and then miss a week. Now, even if she does get sick, we noticed she is only out of school for a day or two and she doesn’t have to rely on oral steroids nearly as much. She gets better on her own and we don’t have to rely on constant antibiotics.”

Mena is now a senior at a private prep school for girls in Philadelphia. This year, she’s only missed three or four days of school. Her treatments have allowed her to flourish and she’s planning to live away from home at college. She wants to study International Relations and Foreign Service and will be attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.