When a young student arrived at school, faculty members saw his prescription inhaler and confiscated it, locking it away in the principal’s office. However, when the child suffered a fatal asthma attack later in the day, the school claimed that its officials weren’t at fault, citing a disturbing reason.
After arriving at Elgin County School in Ontario, Canada, faculty members discovered that 12-year-old Ryan Gibbons had a prescription inhaler in his backpack. The school had a policy against allowing children to handle their own medication, so officials confiscated the inhaler and locked it away in the principal’s office.
For asthma sufferers, a bronchial attack can leave them just minutes, if not seconds, away from death. However, thanks to incredible medical advancements, what used to be a commonly fatal condition is now easily manageable with the right medication. Of course, as Ryan learned, accessibility can be the difference between life and agonizing death.
Despite repeated efforts by his mother, who would send him to school with a doctor’s note, officials simply refused to allow Ryan to keep his inhaler at his side. In fact, administrators would tell the concerned mother to stop letting him bring it to school because they already had one in the office for him if he truly needed it, CBC reports.
“You would give him an inhaler but then he would get caught with the inhaler and then it would be taken away,” Sandra Gibbons said. “Then I’d get a phone call. So it was actually very frustrating. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t realize that the policy actually stated that the prescribed medication needed to be in the office.”
Being an active preteen, Ryan carried on with his school activities, which included playing outside during recess. It was then that the boy realized he was having an asthma attack and that his inhaler was nowhere in sight.
Ryan’s friends picked him up and carried him to the principal’s office to get his inhaler. However, as he struggled to take his final breaths, school officials found that they couldn’t access his medication quick enough to administer the life-saving puffs. The child lost consciousness before administrators could even get to the locked-up inhaler, leaving him to die a terrifying and needless death.
Despite the fact that his mother and doctor had both informed the school that Ryan needed to keep his inhaler with him at all times, the school has since denied being at fault in the boy’s death. Instead, the school pointed to a district policy, which prohibited children from carrying or administering medication, even if it was there own prescription medicine.
“I received many a phone call stating Ryan had taken an inhaler to school and they found it in his bag and would like me to come pick it up because he wasn’t even allowed to bring it home with him,” Sandra said. “There’s supposed to be one in the office and that’s the only one he can have. I didn’t understand why.”
According to a medical expert, school officials likely wanted to protect themselves from a potential lawsuit. It’s possible that administrators could be held liable if a student incorrectly takes their medication or another child gets hold of it.
“I understand these concerns, but what’s the liability in allowing a child with asthma to exercise without having access to an inhaler when a nurse may or may not even be at the school?” asks Maureen George, a nursing professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “But do prescription medications really need to be grouped with illicit drugs?”
George explained that the school probably banned inhalers and asthma medications under the blanket anti-drug policy. Sadly, this vague rule left Ryan with no chance of accessing the life-saving medication at the first sign of an attack.
Since Ryan Gibbons’ senseless death, Canadian government officials passed a bill called “Ryan’s Law,” which makes it illegal for schools to confiscate inhalers from asthma sufferers. Now, students will be allowed to have their medication and apparatus within arm’s reach no matter where they go on campus.
Although Ryan’s death brings about protection for children with similar conditions, his mother is left to grieve the reality that her son’s demise could’ve been avoided. Sadly, it took the agonizing and slow death of a child to allow other children like him to have the medication their lives depend upon with them at all times.