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New Statewide Effort Will Prepare Schools for Health Emergencies

March 5, 2007

Are South Dakota schools ready to deal with health emergencies like asthma attacks, diabetic shock, and epileptic seizures? A statewide effort kicks off this month to help schools be prepared. Darcy Ellefson is a respiratory therapist with Sanford Health. More than 15,000 children are diagnosed with asthma in South Dakota, and thousands more are coping with diabetes and seizure disorders. Ellefson says a new statewide effort will help make sure school personnel are ready when kids have asthma attacks, diabetic shock, and seizures.

"If the child is having one of these emergencies we need to have them stop the activity stay calm, give treatment and then steps for when to call 911 or their local emergency number."

Ellefson hopes clipboards, posters, and other training materials will help classroom and P.E. teachers, coaches and playground aides better understand a child's symptoms and know the warning signs.

"For example, asthma attacks involve coughing a lot, chest tightness, breathing hard. For diabetes it's confusion, sweating, paleness and shakiness. And then seizures are marked by twitching and jerking of the arms or staring off into space. And so, it's important to know for each one of those diseases what to do first and then how to stay calm."

Ellefson says having this information handy can be a life-saver.

"It's a huge deal because it's scary for students. It's also scary for the coaches and the teachers because we expect them to educate our kids and to coach them, but it's impossible for the teachers to know all these medical things right off the top of their heads."

The health information is provided with a grant through the Wellmark Foundation. A number of organizations are working together to distribute the materials, including the American Lung Association of South Dakota, South Dakota Department of Health, South Dakota Department of Education, South Dakota Nurses Association and Sanford Health.

David Law/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - SD