District carries EpiPens for allergy attacks

GREENFIELD — Local schools are preparing for the possibility of life-threatening allergic reactions by carrying epinephrine auto-injection pens for students and staff.

Each Greenfield-Central school now has two brand-name EpiPens available for anyone who shows signs of anaphylaxis, severe throat swelling that could cause death if not immediately treated.

A state law that went into effect in 2014 opened the door for the schools to carry the pens, said Greenfield-Central corporation nurse Dawn Hanson.

While schools for years have been holding prescription pens for the students and staff members who know they are susceptible to an allergic reaction, now anybody could receive an injection of the epinephrine hormone in what Hanson says are vital first seconds before medical professionals arrive to assist.

“It could be a student that we know has a severe allergy, but they don’t have their EpiPen with them. Or it could be a student, staff member or visitor to the building that presents (signs) but has no known history of anaphylaxis,” Hanson said.

The pens were free of charge through an EpiPen distribution program. The pens were distributed this week to Greenfield schools.

Bee stings and peanut allergies are the most common causes of anaphylaxis, though other food allergies could cause the reaction, Hanson said.

For moms like Brandie Robling, the stock epinephrine comes with a sigh of relief. Robling, a Greenfield resident, has two children with allergies and said it’s important that the schools have pens on hand in case parents don’t realize their children are allergic.

Robling just discovered that her son, Hunter, 5, is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

“He’s going to be in kindergarten next year, so if we didn’t find out before now, we might have found out then,” she said.

Robling’s daughter, Chloe Hulen, 13, is allergic to eggs, fish, tree nuts, peanuts and wheat. Last year, Chloe had to use her EpiPen at school after having an itchy throat from eating a piece of candy — probably made on the same manufacturing line as peanuts. It was a scary incident, Robling said, and she hopes other parents don’t have to go through something similar.

While Greenfield-Central schools are just now getting the stock epinephrine, Southern Hancock has carried epinephrine for emergencies for about five years. Corporation nurse Jeanette Pineda said the corporation had a doctor’s prescription from the county health department.

“We are lucky enough we’ve never had to use them,” she said. “The rare times that an EpiPen has been used, the student has had their own.”

Eastern Hancock schools do not have stock epinephrine and only store pens that are prescribed to students and staff. Still, corporation nurse Pam Matthews said the new state law is something worth considering.

A similar program also could be on the horizon for Mt. Vernon. Corporation nurse Michelle Shaw said in an email that she is currently developing a policy on epinephrine for board approval for the 2015-16 school year.

Hanson, who announced the new Greenfield-Central program at this month’s school board meeting, said she is excited about the new program. Each school will have two people trained on how to administer epinephrine. While there are no severe ramifications in administering the drug to someone who is not experiencing anaphylaxis, Hanson said it’s best to be aware of the signs and symptoms and administer the drug in those few vital minutes before an ambulance can arrive for a medical emergency.

“It can make all the difference in whether or not they survive,” Hanson said.