More than 27 million people in the United States have asthma. That accounts for every one in 12 people, and it is a leading chronic disease among children. But St. Louisans can breathe easier thanks to the local chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA-STL). The organization is dedicated to helping those with asthma and allergies through education, support and resources.

The local chapter of the nonprofit was founded in 1981 by two St. Louis doctors and a social worker. The first program developed was BREATH, a prescription assistance initiative designed to help families who don’t have insurance or are underinsured. To date, BREATH has helped almost 9,000 children receive asthma medication for little or no cost. “It’s our oldest program, and it’s still going today,” CEO Chris Martinez says. “Our mission is to serve those affected by asthma and allergies, and at the end of the day, what we do is help people breathe.”

One of the largest issues the AAFA-STL is targeting is the impact of asthma in schools. It is the No. 1 reason that children are chronically absent. “It’s a critical issue across the country, but especially in the St. Louis area,” Martinez notes. “Nationwide, roughly 5% of children have asthma, but here, that number is twice as high at 10%. For kids to learn and grow, they need to be in school achieving their best. One way to help ensure that is by taking care of their asthma needs.” In 2012, Missouri passed legislation that allows schools to stock and administer the asthma treatment albuterol but did not provide funding. To ensure local schools had the proper resources, the AAFA-STL launched RESCUE.

The program equips public schools with asthma medication and medical equipment and trains staff and school nurses on proper administration and storage. RESCUE’s impact has been tangible. “Our data suggests that thanks to intervention, around 90% of the students get to stay at school,” Martinez explains. “Without those resources, only around 25% returned to the classroom following an asthma attack. When a student on Medicaid has to go to the hospital, it costs taxpayers money. Not only is this initiative good for kids, but it’s also good for the state.” The AAFA-STL has been able to expand this program beyond St. Louis into other parts of Missouri and Illinois, and in 2022, Missouri began offering state funding to provide asthma resources in schools.

With the success of RESCUE, the AAFA-STL hopes that it can serve as a model for other parts of the country, and that more states will begin to fund similar initiatives. “We want all kids to stay healthy and in school,” the nonprofit’s board president Rich Chrismer says. “The RESCUE initiative is a national model for helping schools get the medicine, training and equipment they need to keep kids healthy and in the classroom with a 90% success rate. Thanks to the support of Governor Mike Parson and the Missouri legislature, RESCUE also will save Missouri taxpayers an estimated $3.2 million.”

The AAFA-STL also helps people dealing with food allergies. It offers education through allergy-friendly events hosted in partnership with local restaurants and organizations. The next event is June 8 at Busch Stadium. The nonprofit is working with the St. Louis Cardinals for AAFA at the Ballpark, an event that features an allergy-friendly tailgate and concessions as well as a field parade
and giveaways.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America St. Louis Chapter is dedicated to helping those with asthma and allergies through education, support and resources. Its RESCUE program assists schools with stocking asthma medication and medical equipment. Pictured on the cover: St. Louis Public Schools nurse Sheryl Simmons, AAFA-STL CEO Chris Martinez, board president Rich Chrismer. For more information, call 314.645.2422 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

Pictured at top: KIPP St. Louis Public Schools nurse Sheryl Simmons administers asthma treatment to Jaquan, a first-grader at KIPP Wonder Academy.
Photo: Tim Parker Photography