Los Angeles has made great strides in cleaning the air, but poison still looms overhead, especially over the city’s clogged freeways. And kids are still getting sick. UCLA researchers are creating solutions and making science that can help us all breathe easier.

A view of the heart of Terminal Island in Long Beach, just south of the busy 405 Freeway. A mile away at Hudson Elementary School, one out of every five students has asthma.

One evening last spring, Peter nearly stopped breathing.

He was riding in the car with his mother, April, who was taking the 11-year-old boy back from a visit to the ER for one of his chronic asthma attacks. He seemed to be getting better — and then his throat began to constrict. He began to wheeze loudly. He rolled his head back to get more air.

“That was wrong. ‘He should be better than this by now,’ I remember thinking. I knew something was wrong then,” April recalls. “They had given him some meds and the usual advice, but it was not working.”

She turned the car around and drove her son back to the hospital, where physicians and technicians eventually stabilized Peter and, again, sent him home. “On the way home I realized what the doctors were saying,” she remembers. “He had had a pneumothorax — a partially collapsed lung!”