A sixth grader at Bryant Elementary School in Philadelphia died from asthma complications after she wasn't able to visit a school nurse due to budget cuts. Laporshia Massey's father argues her life may have been saved if a medical professional at the school had identified her symptoms early on.
Due to Philadelphia School District budget cuts, which have have resulted in 24 schools closing and 3,783 employees laid off, the elementary school could only afford to have a nurse on staff on Thursdays and Fridays.
Daniel Burch, Massey’s father, said he received a call from the school shortly before school was out notifying him that his daughter wasn’t feeling well. Burch and his fiancé, Sherri Mitchell, didn’t realize how serious her symptoms were; they believe that a trained medical professional at the school would have.
“Once she got home, it wasn’t like she walked in here like she was [just a little] sick,” Mitchell told the Philadelphia City Paper. “She ran up the steps and got on the [nebulizer] machine because she knew the procedures of what she needed to do to save her life.”
As Burch rushed his daughter to the hospital, she passed out in the car. She later died at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the lung’s bronchial tubes and muscle spasms that could constrict the airway. Symptoms of an asthma attack may be coughing, a tightness in the chest and shortness of breath, as inflammation narrows air passages. With medications and devices like inhalers, most people with asthma are able to live with the condition and manage their symptoms, but if not treated properly, severe attacks could result in hospitalization and death.
"We’ll never know if having a school nurse on site could have spared Laporshia’s life, but we do know that school nurses are trained to detect symptoms of asthma attacks," president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten wrote to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. "We know that one in 11 children nationwide have asthma. And we know that in Philadelphia, the statistic is closer to one in five."
A spokesman for the School District of Philadelphia told NewsWorks.org that Massey was already home when her emergency occurred. “You see that a child is not breathing you will call 911,” the spokesman said. “That’s the same situation you will have in any location, a mall, a school, a day-care center.”
The Philadelphia City Paper reports that district cuts have brought the number of school nurses down from 289 in 2011 to 179 this year.