The ideal childhood of someone is filled with happiness and fun. It’s a chance where one can live life to the fullest but learn from their mistakes as well. As adults, we can reminisce over the simplistic life we once lived. However, this is what we all hope for. Some are met with difficult obstacles early in life. One of these people being Ella Roberta. The wholesome child from Lewisham, London was an active kid who enjoyed sports and other engaging things such as singing and dancing. But around her seventh birthday she was diagnosed with asthma in which air pollution was a big contributor. This would be the beginning of her story.
In 2009, she developed a chest infection but this did not raise much concern. It was thought from her mother that this was a common thing amongst kids and nothing would come further from it. In an article from The Guardian, her mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, said, “When she first became ill, I just went to the GP (general practitioner) and got normal antibiotics and thought ‘a few days and that will be it’.”
Although she had minor coughs and colds in the next year, there was one distinct cough that brought worry. “But she developed this cough and it was really strange-sounding, like a whooping cough.” that eventually led to more concern and was taken to a specialist.” — Kissi-Debrah, The Guardian. This persistent cough was compared to sound like whooping cough, a respiratory tract infection that is very serious for babies and young kids. This caused her to seek help for her child from a specialist who created Ella’s treatment.
With her treatment, things seemed to be changing for the better. But on December 21st, 2010, it proved otherwise. She was met with cough but suddenly turned blue. This was an incredible shock and a scared Rosamund rushed to the neighbor who performed CPR on her child. She was then rushed to the nearby hospital.
Ella and her family could not catch a break. A week later, New Year’s Eve, she had another severe episode where she landed in intensive care. Her asthma was perplexing to doctors as she had mucus consistently collect in her lungs and was unable to clear it despite measures being taken. After this she would find herself in the ICU for up to four more times.
The next two years of her life, her family did their best to take care of her. As her condition seemed to fluctuate between good and bad it took a toll on her and her family. In an interview with her mother, from Healthy London Partnership, she recalls, “It was incredibly, incredibly stressful. … She was tired, I was tired.”
On the morning of February 15th, 2013, she had another intense episode. Except this would conclude her battle of nearly three years as she sadly died at the age of 9. Throughout her battle, she would experience a sort of seizure that would would be caused by lack of oxygen often triggered by airborne substances such as pollen. It also didn’t help how she lived in an area where the air pollution levels were not healthy. But during her countless doctor visits, no one seemed to connect the quality of the air to her condition.
On what would’ve been Ella’s 10th birthday, January 24th, 2014, Rosamund launched a foundation to create awareness on asthma and air pollution. The Ella Roberta Family Foundation focuses on educating the public on the struggles of asthma and the severity of the issue as it affects many children in London. As well as pushing to find a answers to the causes and cures of asthma. By bringing attention to the contribution of air pollution to our health, the foundation hopes to influence actions being made to improve environmental conditions.
Rosamund felt like she could do more to honor her daughter’s name and bring her justice. On September 26, 2014, she filed for an inquest with the help of a human rights lawyer, Jocelyn Cockburn, to have Ella’s death certificate state that air pollution was a cause to her death. There had not been a case in the UK listing air pollution as a cause of death so any progression was unclear. But according to Chambers and Partners, on December 18, 2020, Deputy Coroner Phillip Barlow ruled that air pollution was a cause in her death along with “acute respiratory failure, severe asthma.”
Since the early death of Ella, the community that surrounded her has done all they can to show their support. This ranged from her classmates to others who have gone through similar things. Rosamund reflects how much an impact her daughter’s story has by saying, “I thought about the children all around the world who this might help, because I receive letters from people as far away as India about the problems they face with air pollution.” (Chambers and Partners)
The story of Ella Roberta is something like no other. She has a massive influence that has made historical points by being the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death in her death certificate. This involved years of struggle and hard work that paid off in the end. The memory of a caring child will live on.