Star Football Player with Asthma Returns to Gridiron Thanks to Albany Medical Center Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine

At 6’1” and 400 pounds, Seth Wallace, of Selkirk, makes his massive presence known among opposing quarterbacks and running backs. The 14-year-old star player on Ravena’s modified football team draws a bevy of blockers. “I’m made for football,” he said, with a confident tone that no one challenges because, well, he’s got a point.

But for 10 years prior, Seth battled against another more worthy adversary that kept him off the playing field entirely. Asthma halted this talented behemoth in his tracks.

More than 26 million Americans have asthma, including 6.1 million children, according to the American Lung Association website. Asthma is a chronic lung disease where swollen airways become extra sensitive to ‘triggers’ that can create extra mucus and swell even more, making it hard to breathe. Asthma can start at any age.

Seth started having asthma symptoms at age 4, said his mother, Sabrinia Zinzow. For years, doctors struggled to get his asthma under control. At least every four or five months, she said, they would rush him to the emergency room for treatment. Twice, doctors nearly needed to intubate him. Sabrinia felt helpless seeing her son in respiratory distress.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic took the family’s fear and anxiety to a whole other level. The family hid in seclusion for several months, fearful that exposure to the virus would be fatal for Seth. But his allergies would induce severe asthma attacks. To control his condition, doctors put him on a high dose of prednisone for seven months. Instead, Seth put on 100 pounds and still couldn’t breathe.

Treating Seth last September at Albany Medical Center’s Pediatric Pulmonary outpatient clinic, Albany Medical Center pediatric intensivist Wally Edge, MD, described the teen as “one of the sickest asthmatics that wasn’t in the ICU that I’ve ever seen. He was truly, truly struggling.” Dr. Edge prescribed an injectable antibody medication that offers a more targeted approach than steroids.

Describing the new medication as a “lifesaver,” Sabrinia is thrilled to see her son feeling better and resuming football this spring. “They didn’t give up on him,” she said, referring to the Albany Medical Center Pediatric Pulmonary staff. “I was scared because I thought that we’d have to deal with this for the rest of his life. I didn’t think that there was going to be hope -- I really didn’t -- because it was 10 years of agony that we had to go through.”

Even Dr. Edge marveled at how well Seth has responded to the new regimen. His return to football “is astonishing considering how sick he was in September. I would have said then there was no chance” of him playing, he said.

With the recent FDA approval of the Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, Sabrinia initially agonized about having her son vaccinated. Seth is wary of needles. In her heart, though, she knows it’s the right thing to do. “Not only do I think it’s beneficial – I definitely think he should get it,” she said.

Dr. Edge concurs. “Patients with asthma and pulmonary disease are the ones that really need the vaccine; they are the children at the highest risk,” he warned.

For now, Seth is focused on football. A ferocious defensive player now back at full strength, Seth said he “feels great” and has a warning for opposing offensive players: “They better hope they can hold onto the ball."