New York student Rory Staunton died in 2012 from an unclean cut in a gym class that led to sepsis, the leading pediatric killer, yet he continues to make his mark. The Rory Staunton Bill — requiring sepsis awareness, prevention and education to be established for students, parents and school personnel — has just been signed by Gov. Cuomo.
The new law requires that curriculum include guidelines and methods of prevention, including recommendations for the reduction of exposure to sepsis and a course of action for treatment.
“It is our hope that this will make a significant difference in identifying and responding to sepsis before it becomes lethal,” said nurse Anne Goldman of United Federation of Teachers and chair of NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council. “Here is a great example of when knowledge truly matters and will allow us to prevent people from being victimized by this potentially deadly killer.
Sepsis travels in rapid transit. It can sneak in through dental work, an abscess, a scrape, a urinary tract infection or surgery.
All materials relevant to this new law shall be available on a dedicated webpage on the State Education Department’s website, and the SED commissioner shall issue a memo to every school district, BOCES, charter school and nonpublic school alerting them of the required sepsis awareness and education program.
Schools are being encouraged to develop policies relating to parental notification of a student’s illness or injury.
Additionally, the following health care professionals must complete coursework or training on sepsis every four years: dentists, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, podiatrists, optometrists and dental hygienists practicing in New York State. Coursework or training must also be completed by every medical student, medical resident and physician assistant student.
“Rory's Regulations,” signed into law by Gov. Cuomo in 2013, made New York the first state to require all hospitals to adopt best practices for the early identification and treatment of sepsis. It is the number one killer in hospitals — and kills more people than AIDS, stroke, lung cancer or breast cancer combined.
When 12-year-old Rory was injured in gym, his wound was not cleaned, he was not sent to the school nurse, two band-aids were put on the cut, and, within several days, he was dead despite two visits to the emergency room. His parents were never notified that alarm bells were going off in his blood work; results came in after Rory was discharged from the ER and they were not alerted.
Rory’s father, Ciaran Staunton, spoke to school and hospital union members at a NYSUT Health Care Professionals Forum in 2015 as part of NYSUTs ongoing support for legislative action toward sepsis awareness.
In September, Sepsis Awareness Month, New York’s State Education Department released its first-in-the-nation sepsis prevention curriculum materials for teachers, proclaiming that “Rory has made history again.” Sample K-12 grade curriculum is available through SED. Health literacy and self advocacy is part of the lessons for older students.
Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said the curriculum provides guidance for health teachers. “Sepsis preventions education can truly save lives,” she said.
Ciaran and his wife Orlaith have taken their grief with them while working long days, weeks, months and years to share their son’s story in order to stop sepsis ignorance. They have appeared at medical conferences, on TV shows, spoken with lawmakers on the state and national levels and spoken at schools.
Those at higher risk of developing sepsis include:
- people with weakened immune systems
- babies and very young children
- elderly people
- people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, and kidney and liver disease
- people suffering from a burn or wound
- people who have invasive devices, such as intravenous catheters or breathing tubes
According to the Rory Staunton Foundation, sepsis affects 30 million people each year. It is the leading cause of death for infants and children around the world, despite the fact that early diagnosis followed by a broad spectrum of antibiotics and IV fluids is all that is required to save a life. In the United States, sepsis affects more that 1 million Americans annually and kills more than 258,000. It leaves thousands of survivors with life-changing disabilities.
If two of the following signs are present, seek immediate medical assistance.
- a fever above 101ºF or a temperature below 96.8ºF
- heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute
- breathing rate higher than 20 breaths per minute
- probable or confirmed infection