Monday, June 4, 2012

Paperwork vs. A Life

by Kelley Lindberg

Summer vacation has either started or is just around the corner for most kids in the U.S. now, but a couple of recent incidents have reminded me of why it’s so important to make sure teachers, principals, lunchroom staff, and even bus drivers are aware of children’s food allergies.

In Minnesota, the quick thinking of a bus driver and his assistant saved a little girl’s life when she got on the school bus with red blotches on her skin. They called the school nurse, who was nearby, and they quickly administered an EpiPen. That quick thinking was possible because all three knew that 4-year-old Grace was allergic to tree nuts, and they had a medical sheet about the little girl that explained her allergy information. See the story at “School Employees Honored for Saving Little Girl’s Life.”

On the other hand, another school incident, this one in Florida, was nearly tragic, all because of some unsigned paperwork. (See “Nurse Refuses Student Inhaler During Asthma Attack.” A high school student, Michael, had a severe asthma attack, but the school nurse refused to administer his own inhaler to him because the medical release form didn’t have his mother’s signature on it. The school dean had found the inhaler in the boy’s locker, and it was in its original packaging, including the prescribing label with Michael’s name on it, but the school took it away because his mother hadn’t signed the form allowing him to use it.

Then when the boy had an allergic reaction, school officials called his mother – not 911 – and the nurse locked him in a room, stood on the outside and watched through the window as he collapsed to the floor. She never called 911. She never gave him the inhaler. No one helped him at all until his mother arrived, and that was almost too late. All because the nurse says she wasn’t authorized to help without the parent’s signature on this year’s form. (Never mind that he’d been in the school system for years and had signed forms from previous years.)

The mother has filed charges against the nurse.

It shouldn’t come to that. We don’t know all the details of the story, and there may be circumstances we aren’t privy to, but I still am appalled at this event. Locking the boy in a room by himself and watching him through the window instead of helping? Unfathomable.

There’s a GIANT learning lesson here for all the rest of us. Make an appointment right now with your allergist, and have them fill out that Food Allergy Action Plan immediately. (Most allergists have them, some schools have their own form, or you can print the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network’s form here: English Food Allergy Action Plan, or Spanish Food Allergy Action Plan.) Make several copies, and set up a meeting with your child’s principal, teacher, and lunchroom manager for the week before school starts to give it to them. Make sure you attach a photo of your child to the Action Plan and introduce them all.

This simple step saved little Grace’s life. And it almost cost Michael his.

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