May 07, 2019

School nurses on site — the difference between life and death

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
school nurse
Caption: "CHILLIN' WITH THE NURSE." School nurse Arlene Kuchcicki, a member of East Williston Teachers Association, keeps her office fun and inviting for students. Earlier this year, she saved a life in her health room. Photo provided.

All out of breath, a fearful 11- year-old boy stepped into the nurse’s office in the Willets Road Middle School in the small town of East Williston earlier this spring.

“It was like he ran a marathon and did not stop,” said school nurse Arlene Kuchcicki. She quickly put a stethoscope to the student’s heart. It was 182 beats per minute. It typically shouldn’t be more than 96 -100, she said. “His heart was racing and it felt like it was going to jump out of his chest.”

Nurse Kuchcicki had the student do a few simple movements, which should’ve stopped the rapid beat. It didn’t. She gave him water and called his mom, who thought it was the boy’s anxiety acting up. Kuchcicki urged the mother to come and take him to the doctor.

A 21-year veteran school nurse, she talked to the boy about sports, about his vacation, “anything to get his mind off how he felt he couldn’t catch his breath.”

As she did this, she monitored his color. “You could see the fear in his face,” she said.

Mom arrived and took him to his pediatrician, and from there he was taken to the hospital. His heart rate was 240 beats per minute. The student was admitted to the hospital for three days, where he was put on an IV beta-blocker.

“Very rarely does this happen in children,” Kuchcicki said.

“All of this [happened] on the advice of a nurse in a school system taking care of kids,” said President Meryl Fordin of the East Williston Teachers Association, Kuchcicki’s local union. “She’s our amazing nurse.

“In my opinion, the only way to run a school and to ensure the safety of students is to have a school nurse in every building,” Fordin said.

Diabetes, allergies, asthma, injuries and sudden illness can all be life threatening, she said, especially if there is not a health care professional on site.

NYSUT is advocating again this year for the state Legislature to pass a law requiring a school nurse in every building in the Big Five cities in New York.

Fordin is grateful that East Williston has in place a school nurse in each building.

“That’s a commitment of our community to keep our kids safe,” she said.

During his first three days back at school, the student wore a heart monitor, which Kuchcicki checked three times a day. Soon, he went back to gym class and is back in his normal routine, which includes being active in sports he loves.

For Kuchcicki, it’s proof positive how much school communities need a nurse in every building. She said she sees 60 to 70 students a day in the middle school in East Williston, a small Nassau County town.

“Kids can walk in anytime, with anything,” she said. “As they walk in, I’m assessing. How is their breathing? Are they crying? Limping?”

Last year a student fell on the playground and got a concussion that caused the youngster to start seizing, which lasted for about 10 minutes until the ambulance arrived. She monitored him, timed the seizures, and turned him on his side.

“The actions that she took — saving a student’s life — stresses why it is critical to have a school nurse in every building. When lives are at stake, nobody should be taking a chance because of budgetary situations,” said Paul Pecorale, NYSUT second vice president, who oversees union health care professionals.

School Nurses Day • May 8, 2019

  • School nurses juggle a complex range of medical and social issues, from communicable diseases, stress and chronic illnesses (diabetes and asthma) to accidents, injuries and school safety and often moving from school to school throughout the district.
  • For some students, the school nurse is the only health care professional they ever see.
  • School nurses' work goes beyond the nurse's office - they interact with teachers, doctors, child study teams, administrators, school counselors, social workers, coaches, parents, police, substance abuse professionals and other School-Related Professionals.

Learn more about National Nurses Week (May 6-12) and School Nurses Day (May 8).

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