School Nurse Denies Inhaler, Watches Student Lose Consciousness

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COMMENTARY | Michael Rudi, 17-year-old high school student and an asthmatic, very nearly died because the school nurse refused to let him use his inhaler because his mother didn't sign a form.

Instead, WKMG reports, Rudi says, "like something out of a horror film," she watched him until he started to lose consciousness. And then she locked the door.

His mother found him there, against a wall, unable to breathe, the nurse looking at him, when she got to the school. According to the report, Deltona High School and Verona County officials stand by the nurse's decision.

Dr. Raoul Wolf, professor and chief of the section of pediatric allergy, asthma and immunology at the University of Chicago, is an expert in this field and also my father.

"You have a trained person who knew what she was supposed to do but didn't do it because a piece of paper wasn't signed," he said. "It's a real problem."

What could have happened? According to Wolf, "Though he didn't die, (Rudi) could have suffered serious brain damage from not having enough oxygen. He could have had a stroke. He could have been left dependent on a ventilator or in a comatose state for the rest of his life."

This isn't an issue unique to a single school in Florida. As HealthDay News reports, though every state has laws allowing kids to carry inhalers, administrators still hesitate to allow them to do so. And paperwork still has to be signed. If it's not, then it might be up to the school nurse to decide what to do, if there is one.

Says Wolf: "We've had school nurses think the way to treat asthma is to give them cold water to drink," which, he explained, can worsen symptoms as cold can trigger asthma.

In the Florida case, the situation was left to the nurse, and the nurse's solution was to lock the door. She did not call 911. She left this child to whatever might come of the asthma episode.

So what do you do if your child needs lifesaving medication? Can you trust the schools to be certain they will value the life of your child over rules and regulations? If you look at Rudi's situation, it seems the answer is no.

There is policy and then there is life. Policy is meaningless if it is followed in blind obedience without consideration of the full consequences of not deviating. It is far more important a child lives than a mere rule is followed.

This as-of-yet unnamed nurse should be deeply shamed, not only as a medical professional but as a human being by the process that apparently led her to believe locking a door on a student who couldn't breathe was a better decision than calling 911. And she should be grateful Rudi lived to tell his story, apparently without permanent psychical damage.

The emotional damage of needing help and being treated so callously is a different story.

We owe it to children to ensure when they go to school, they are safe, they are cared for and they will receive lifesaving treatment if they need it. We've seen what happens if we fail. Let's fix it before the outcome is worse than it was here.

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