Today is National School Nurse’s Day – an opportunity for students throughout the District to thank the more than 250 registered nurses who provide them with physical care and emotional support while they’re at school. This year, CPS’ school nurses have gone above and beyond their daily responsibilities, implementing a new program that has and will save student lives.
Serious food allergies are on the rise among children, especially when it comes to peanuts, eggs and shellfish. Even very minor exposure to these foods can cause symptoms of anaphylactic shock, including facial swelling, tightening of the throat, and difficulty breathing. An injection of the drug epinephrine can halt these symptoms within minutes, which is why school nurses throughout the state have fought for the presence of epinephrine injectors (or epi-pens) in all Illinois schools.
“It can save a life,” said Cheryl Kramer, a school nurse at Lane Technical High School. “It’s as simple as that. Without an epi-pen, all we can do in a situation like that is call 911, and often help comes too late.”
Students with known food allergies tend to have prescribed epi-pens with them during school. But according to the Journal of Pediatrics, one in four cases of life-threatening childhood anaphylaxis occurs in children who were not previously diagnosed with a food or other severe allergy. Therefore, at the urging of medical professionals throughout the state, including CPS Chief Health Officer Dr. Stephanie Whyte, the Illinois General Assembly last year passed the Emergency Epinephrine Act – a law that allows all schools to maintain a supply of stock epinephrine.
“At the start of the year, every CPS school was given 2-4 epi-pens,” said Lilliana DeSantiago-Cardenas, a Student Health Specialist with CPS’ Office of Student Health and Wellness. “School nurses monitor the supply and have the authority to use the epi-pens at their discretion.”
CPS is among the first large school districts to implement such a program, and has since become a model for other states.
“We’re considered trailblazers in this area,” said Lilliana DeSantiago-Cardenas. “Other states are watching to see how we’re managing the program, and we’re helping them work out how to do something similar for their schools.”
Since the start of the 2012-2013 school year, school nurses have used the epi-pens to treat students’ allergic reactions on 34 separate occasions.
“There’s no doubt that this is saving lives,” said Cheryl Kramer, who has been a school nurse in CPS for 15 years. “Because when a child is having this kind of reaction, there’s no time to wait.”