School Nurses Want Law To Help Them Save Students From Deadly Allergic Reactions


As the school year comes to an end, state lawmakers will be getting a bill backed by school nurses within the next few weeks.

Nurses want to save the lives of students who have allergic reactions to food for the first time while at school.

Alia O'Brien, a student at Robert Frost Elementary in Westerville, is like one in 20 American children -- she has food allergies.

Her mother, Tanya, ticks them off on her fingers to keep track.  

"Dairy, eggs, peanut, tree nut, chicken, soy, sesame, rice, coconut, oat, kiwi, avocado. We avoid gluten, banana and chocolate."

Her daughter, now 10, has been allergic to certain foods since birth.  

It took six months before doctors determined what was wrong.  

Alia says even as some of her food allergies seem to go away, new ones appear.

She once got into trouble after eating a cookie that she didn't know contained nuts.  

Since then, Tanya has taught her daughter to read every label before she eats anything, and if she has any questions, to call her mother and ask.

"If it's a really bad reaction, you could die from it, so it's really scary," Alia says.

But an emergency injection of epinephrine could save her life.  

Alia unzips a small pouch that she wears around her waist and pulls out an injector full of medicine, known as an EpiPen.

"This is my EpiPen. I wear it everywhere," she says.  

Alia has never had to use one, but she has practiced how to inject herself, and she says both her parents and younger siblings also have learned how to do so, in case she needs it.

Kate King, president of the Ohio Association of School Nurses, says they've seen a big increase in the number of kids with food allergies in the last few years. Nearly one quarter of them have their first allergic reaction at school.

It's scary for parents, says Tanya.

"I honestly feel worried for parents who are sending their child to school, not knowing that an allergic reaction is going to come today," she said.

King says it's also scary for school nurses.

"It is very hard to just wait, and being able to do nothing for a child whom you know is dying," she says.

King says though nurses store the drug for some students, it can create an ethical nightmare when another child has a bad reaction for the first time.

"How you let a child die when you have medicine they need right in your medicine cabinet but it's not theirs?"  King asks.

By law, nurses are forbidden to give medicine prescribed for one child to another.

So OASN is preparing a bill for the state legislature that would permit schools to buy and store a stock injector of the drug -- one that could be used for any student who needs it.

In schools without a nurse, the principal would designate a staff member to be trained to give the shot.

"We want to make it accessible and affordable," King says.

King estimates it will cost each school between $300 and $500 for the EpiPens.

The Ohio Association of School Nurses is talking to several lawmakers to see who will sponsor the bill.

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