Suspension of Teen Hero Prompts Calls for School Asthma Reform

in Asthma, College Corner, News
Published: February 1, 2016
Tishica Fisher suffered an asthma attack at school. Her friend Anthony came to her aid.Tishica Fisher, right, has Anthony Ruelas to thank for his heroic actions after her asthma attack at school. Anthony, however, was suspended after the incident. Photo: Handout/Allergic Living

When Anthony Ruelas’ friend suffered an asthma attack at school, his actions may have saved her life – and started a discussion about asthma safety in Texas schools.

When Mandy Cortes got the call on January 19, 2016 that her son, Anthony Ruelas, was being suspended for walking out of class, she was disappointed – it wasn’t the first time, and he knew better. But when she arrived at her son’s Killeen, Texas middle school, Anthony looked at her and said, “Mom, I thought she was going to die.”

The boy, 15, was sitting in class when he noticed that his friend, Tishica Fisher was having an asthma attack. She “was breathing a little hard.” She was wheezing and clutching her chest, Anthony told Allergic Living, but the teacher instructed everyone to stay in their seats while she emailed the school nurse about Fisher’s asthma attack.

Tishica, also 15, has had asthma since she was three months old and carries an inhaler, local news outlet KCEN reported. That day, according to the teacher’s handwritten account of the incident, Tishica said she was having an asthma attack, something she had experienced at school before.

Anthony, who has two cousins with asthma, one of whom ended up in a coma because of an attack, waited for about three minutes. But when Tishica fell out of her chair from the asthma attack, he sprang into action – picking up the ailing student and carrying her to the nurse’s office. According to the teacher’s report of the incident, Anthony said: “F— that, we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.”

For his efforts, Anthony ended up suspended for two days for an unauthorized departure from class. Cortes is furious about the school’s response, and has pulled Anthony out of the school and is setting up home-schooling for the remainder of the year. She’s not alone in disagreeing with the school: Anthony has gained widespread support, receiving media coverage as “a hero” from around the globe.

“That’s the way he reacts; he’s always the first one to jump in and help,” Cortes told Allergic Living. She added that although her son has been suspended before, this time, he knew he didn’t deserve it. The school’s reaction has left Anthony feeling “disappointed”.

“They were more worried about writing me up instead of worried about [Tishica],” said Anthony. Later that day, he went home and posted to Facebook asking his friends if he “had done right or wrong.” The post went viral.

Meanwhile Tishica – who has since recovered from the asthma attack – and her family thanked and praised Anthony for his quick action.

In response to the controversy over how the situation was handled, John Craft, the superintendent of the Killeen Independent School District, released the following statement:

“The Killeen Independent School District maintains the safety of our students as our number one priority. The incident at Gateway Middle School as reported on 1/19/16 was investigated. Students were not disciplined for providing aid to another student on 1/19/16 at Gateway Middle School. Students rendering assistance and their efforts are to be applauded. The district employs registered nurses on our campuses to include Gateway Middle School, to assess and assist with student and staff medical needs as they arise and to ensure the health and well-being of our students.”

Anthony’s potentially life-saving actions occurred only a few days after another Texas middle school student, 12-year-old Indiyah Rush, lent her inhaler to a fellow classmate who was having an asthma attack at school. Both Rush and her classmate were then suspended for sharing prescription medication.

“It’s a prescription [medication], and one student’s severity with asthma may not mirror that of the girl who let the other borrow hers, and that could have resulted in some pretty significant issues,” Chris Moore, Garland Independent School District spokesman, told Fox4.

However, some asthma experts disagree. “Albuterol delivered through an inhaler is unlikely to cause any significant side effects whether administered to someone who does not need it or accidentally given in doses higher than recommended,” pediatric allergist Dr. Dave Stukus told the Allergy and Asthma Network (AAN). “While it is never ‘appropriate’ to share prescription medication … in this situation, the benefit from sharing albuterol far outweighs any potential harm,” he said.

Approximately seven million children in the U.S – or at least three students in every 30-pupil class – have asthma, and the chronic condition results in 13.8 million missed school days per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half (57 percent) of asthmatic children experience at least one asthma attack per year.

News of the students’ incidents has raised concerns about asthma safety in schools, specifically in Texas. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) noted that the state does not require schools to have emergency asthma protocols and lawmakers have not put specific policies, procedures or resources in place to help schools manage asthmatic students.

“We hope [the schools involved] direct future efforts at changing Texas laws and regulations that leave students at risk,” AAFA wrote in an online post responding to the two cases.

One way to do that, Stukus suggests in the AAN post, would be to take a page out of food allergy procedures, where stock epinephrine is a key line of defence at school for students at risk for anaphylaxis.

“I believe stock albuterol legislation should be mandatory in every state. It’s designed to allow schools to administer albuterol without a prescription to any student with known asthma who requires treatment, but does not have their own prescription inhaler available,” he said.

In the meantime, Anthony’s story has been covered by major news outlets around the world, prompting messages of support from as far away as Argentina and Russia. The Texas teen, who told Allergic Living that he “likes helping people” and is now considering a career as a first responder, has since received offers to get first-aid training and even a congressional internship.

Despite all the praise, Anthony maintains he is no hero. “I did what I had to do in the situation,” he said in our interview.