Lack of School Nurse Led to Daughter's Asthma Death: Father

Laporshia Massey, 12, died last month after suffering a severe asthma attack

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Thursday, Oct 17, 2013  |  Updated 11:52 PM EDT
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NBC10's Daralene Jones speaks with the father of Laporshia Massey who died from an asthma attack. He blames the School District of Philadelphia for her death.

NBC10 - Daralene Jones

NBC10's Daralene Jones speaks with the father of Laporshia Massey who died from an asthma attack. He blames the School District of Philadelphia for her death.

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The father of a 12-year-old girl who died after an apparent asthma attack says his daughter might still be alive if her school had a full-time nurse on duty.

Laporshia Massey died in late Sept. after coming home from school not feeling well. Her father, Daniel Burch, said once she arrived home at 3 p.m. that day, the girl immediately went for her inhaler. But more than two hours later, when the inhalers didn’t work, Burch said he drove her to the hospital.

“I noticed her stomach wasn’t moving, so I started patting her chest,” he recalled, adding that he told the girl to “hold on.” Massey later died in the hospital.

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Burch said Massey’s school, William C. Bryant Elementary in West Philadelphia, called his home twice that day after the girl complained about feeling sick. Despite the calls, Massey remained in school.

Sources tell NBC10 that the girl was still feeling sick at the end of the school day, so an employee drove her home because no one had come to pick her up.

“She had episodes before where she would just come home and get on her nebulizer or take her inhaler,” said the father, who also has asthma. He said the girl never had serious issues in the past. Burch could not say whether Massey carried an inhaler to school or if school officials knew the girl had asthma.

A spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia said a review confirmed Massey never had an asthma attack or showed symptoms of an attack while at Bryant Elementary. The school only had a nurse on duty two days a week and a nurse was not there on the day of Massey’s illness.

The Philadelphia Medical Examiner is still determining the official cause in Massey’s death, but Burch says the school is to blame for not having a nurse who is skilled enough to spot an asthma attack working. He’s since hired an attorney who said the school should have called 911 if the girl had trouble breathing.

Peg Devine, a former Philadelphia school district nurse who quit when her job was cut to part-time, said she worked at one city school where 27-percent of the students had asthma.

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She said working part-time in that school was not enough time to teach students how to manage the illness, and train staff to recognize a child in distress.

In recent years, Philadelphia public and charter schools have seen a reduction in the number of working nurses. There were 298 nurses in 2011 and this year there are 197 nurses covering nearly 200,000 children.

However, the number of available nurses vastly exceeds a requirement set forth by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The state requires one nurse for every 1,500 students, a fact that has advocates and nurses concerned.

“There just aren’t enough eyes, ears and hands on deck,” said nurse Eileen DiFranco. “If we lose even one child, that doesn’t speak well of us as people.”

A recent survey by the Education Law Center found the majority of Philadelphia school nurses say they now cover two, three or more school buildings. It also found 70-percent of drugs and treatments are administered by teachers or school aides.

The Education Law Center is supporting a federal bill that would offer extra money for nurses and reduce the student-nurse ratio to one-in-750. The center also says school districts should partner with medical institutions and nursing schools.

Asked whether he regretted not going to pick his daughter up from school, Burch said no, because he didn’t know the attack was severe.

“No, I don’t because had I known it was that bad, I would’ve been there,” he said.

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