It’s Time to Stop Stigmatizing Lifesaving Tracheostomy Tubes

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by Halsey Blocher |

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My family and I are gathered around the television when one of our favorite shows is interrupted by a commercial. An image is shown of a young person smiling at the camera. They appear to be happy and healthy. Then the screen changes to show the same person lying in a hospital bed. Their bones are visible under their skin, and they no longer have that vibrant smile.

They are breathing through a tracheostomy tube, and some text on the screen warns that this is the aftermath of smoking. The commercial focuses heavily on the trach, and not its cause.

I find this type of advertising to be discouraging. This depiction of people with trachs contributes to a stigma. It’s a fear tactic intended to frighten healthy people.

Here’s why I take issue with that: I have a trach. So do many of my friends with SMA and other disabilities, and we don’t have these medical devices because we’re smokers. Our trachs serve as life-giving artificial airways, and that’s how they should be seen.

I received my trach during an emergency surgery after doctors had to perform CPR twice in one day to restart my heart and lungs. I was in the hospital fighting off multiple infections that my body was too weak to battle on its own. The doctors saved my life and gave me a trach to better it. Without that trach, I certainly would not be here today.

Threatening, fear-based messages that suggest disabilities or chronic illnesses are scary only contribute to further isolation, ridicule, and discrimination of individuals living with these conditions. Commercials that do so are perpetuating a stigma that needs to end.

This article on HuffPost perfectly demonstrates how people with trachs are treated this way regularly. Stigmatizing commercials add to this problem.

Yes, it is known that smoking is dangerous, but that doesn’t make it acceptable to stigmatize an entire population of people that rely on trachs to enjoy life.

Trachs are not something to be feared. They are lifesaving medical devices. People with and without SMA need their trachs to do so many things.

My trach allows me to go about my day without worrying that I won’t be able to breathe. It ensures that there will always be a way to easily clear mucus from my airway and fill my lungs with oxygen.

These are things that people need to do every day, but few take notice of such seemingly simple tasks. Having an additional way to complete these tasks gives me the freedom to live my life however I choose to, and that freedom allows me to meet virtually with my co-workers, help organize fundraisers, and spend time with friends and family without struggling for air.

Trachs are not the bad guy of this story — stigmatizing others is. So, let’s put the focus back where it belongs and raise awareness through informative messages instead of giving people a reason to fear trachs. You never know, a trach could save your life someday.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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