Mikenze Poling is one of many Buckhannon-Upshur High School students who participate in Raze, an organization against tobacco use.
She told the Buckhannon City Council Thursday that because of her severe allergy to smoking, she has to carry a respirator, EpiPens and an inhaler with her at all times. She can't go to public places like the city park to enjoy time there with friends and family.
She and other students are asking the Buckhannon City Council to consider making public parks and recreational areas in Buckhannon tobacco-free, because they said everyone "allergies or not" deserves the right to clean air.
Poling nearly lost her life during an episode triggered simply by workers at the high school taking a smoking break next to a door propped open to the swimming pool where Poling was. Chris Eddy, a friend of Poling's, said the door was propped open because the chlorine can make the room very hot. Eddy and Poling are swimmers at the high school. Eddy said that swimming is a sport where breaths are very limited. When swimmers do take a breath, it is often a large gulp of air. Eddy said Poling was about to do a flip-turn in the water.
"Before you do a flip-turn, you try to get a lot of air because you want to kick off the wall and get as far as you can under the water," Eddy said. "That breath of air was almost all second-hand smoke."
Poling then began coughing and went to the locker room. Her teammates knew about her condition and decided to let her catch her breath for a few minutes.
When she didn't come back out after a couple minutes, they went to check on her.
"We went in there, and she was laying there nearly unconscious," Eddy said. "This was the second tragic accident we've had at swimming practice within two weeks. Here is Mikenze gulping for air, trying to hold on to (her) breath."
Her condition was further exacerbated when the ambulance showed up. One of the emergency squad workers was a smoker and had second-hand smoke on his clothes.
When he put the oxygen mask over Poling's face, some of the latent smoke got under the mask and was being filtered through her body.
"As they tried to put the oxygen mask back on, the more they tried, the further Mikenze went," Eddy said. "You can only imagine the horror as the whole swim team was standing in the water watching one of their best friends and their fellow swimmers trying to hold onto life."
Eddy and some of the other swimmers left practice and went to the hospital where they learned there had been more incidents where hospital workers had second-hand smoke on them.
"It worsened Mikenze's condition further," Eddy said. "Second-hand smoke is dangerous. Smoking is dangerous. So why would we want to subject our children of Upshur County and our children of Buckhannon to such an environment"
"You're not allowed to smoke in a restaurant anymore, thankfully. You can still go to a park where children are active during physical activities and sports and trying to breath healthy air, and they can't. We are here to plead that you change this. There's still something that you can do before a tragic event, like Mikenze going to the park, happens again."
Poling said her allergy to tobacco smoke is fatal, and she can't go anywhere without her bag full of items that could help in a time of need.
"With the lax public policies that are in place now, this is my only real security whenever I leave my house," Poling said. "I have to avoid many activities that other friends of mine and my family members so often enjoy because I can't take the chance that someone might light up, and I might not be in a position to reach my respirator in time."
"I'm not here to talk about my personal allergy. I'm here to represent Raze. I asked to speak because health is a way of life," Poling said. "I believe everyone has the right to live without the harmful effects of others' choices. Whenever you drink and drive, you face immediate, harsh penalties. When you light up, there are no repercussions."