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A different kind of school supply list WHERE TO LEARN MORE Help for kids with asthma
Planning and communication are key to keeping students with diabetes, asthma and other conditions safe at school

 Devin uses a glucose meter to check his blood sugar. He brings a kit to school to monitor his diabetes.
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Date published: 8/24/2008

BY DONYA CURRIE

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Kayla Geller and Devin Dunn are like the thousands of area kids returning to school in the next week or two, but along with new pencils, notebooks and scissors, they'll go back with specialized medical plans designed to keep them healthy and safe at school.

Devin, 6, heads to first grade wearing an insulin pump to manage his Type 1 diabetes, and Kayla, 7, has an asthma inhaler on hand in the school nurse's office in case she has breathing difficulty during the school day.

Their parents have filled out paperwork detailing each child's medical needs, and the paperwork is kept on file at school. Most importantly, school officials say, there's an open dialogue among the parents, the school nurse, each child's teacher and the school administration.

Communication is critical when a child's medical condition needs monitoring at school, said Kathy Whitby, school nurse manager for Stafford County public schools.

"We're not really control freaks," Whitby said. "We just want to understand what's best for the students and how to get there."

Every local school system has specific forms and policies to help children with special medical needs.

The most common ailment school nurses deal with is asthma, said Whitby. But there are kids such as Devin who have diabetes, and others with life-threatening allergies, just to name two of the other health concerns that often crop up on school grounds.

DOING THEIR HOMEWORK

Communication with the parents is important at every grade level, Whitby said. While high school might seem a time when students can take care of their own medical needs, for example, that's exactly when some need more supervision, she said.

The transition from childhood to adolescence can be a trying time for any student, and those with medical concerns sometimes need extra support, Whitby said.

No matter what a student's age, parents have to be their child's advocates.

"We have open communication with the school, and the teachers are very perceptive," Kayla Geller's father, Todd Geller, said about the staff at Hartwood Elementary in Stafford County.

Kayla's asthma is a tricky case because she doesn't require medication daily but can suffer a flare-up, especially during cold and flu season.


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Caroline County public schools: caroline.k12.va.us/education; click on "Support Services" then "Health Services"

Fredericksburg public schools: cityschools.com/cityschools/Health_Services/Index.html

King George County public schools: kgcs.k12.va.us/forms/index .htm

Spotsylvania County public schools: spotsylvania.k12.va.us/healthweb/index.htm

Stafford County public schools: stafford.schoolfusion.us; click on "Health Services" under "Administrative Departments."

Nationally, nearly 11 percent of all schoolchildren have asthma, and the American Lung Association recently issued tips and a checklist for parents to prepare for the coming school year. Here's what parents should do to keep their children well:

1) Schedule asthma checkups.

2) Confirm that medications are up-to-date, and fill prescriptions.

3) Know about prescription assistance services. Two organizations help provide asthma medications to those in financial need. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance can be reached at 888/477-2669, pparx.org, and Rx Outreach provides information at rxoutreach .com.

4) Have an asthma action plan. All students with asthma should have a written asthma action plan detailing personal information about symptoms, medications and physical activity limitations as well as instructions about what to do if an attack doesn't improve with prescribed medication.

5) Visit your child's school nurse and teachers. Discuss specific triggers and typical symptoms to help school personnel be prepared to help.

6) Advocate for your child. Find out what needs to be done to allow your child to carry and use an inhaler, for example.

7) Know your school's asthma emergency plan. Parents should know a school's history of dealing with asthma episodes and confirm that school staff members have been trained in responding to asthma emergencies.

For more on asthma and children, visit lungusa.org or call 800/586-4872.