, Salem, MA

March 24, 2007

Diabetics lobby for lifesaving-injection bill

By Mini Kolluri , Correspondent

BOSTON - Marlee Rosen, a 17-year-old Swampscott High School student, has diabetes. When her blood glucose level falls critically low, she needs an injection of glucagon.

Rosen can't inject herself when that happens, and state law forbids her friends and teachers - anyone but the school nurse - from injecting her with glucagon. She could faint or have a seizure. But only the school nurse can help her, and the wait may be too long.

"That is stupid," Rosen said. "I've studied in schools where there are many buildings, and the nurse is far away."

Diabetes is a disease that causes abnormally high and low levels of blood sugar. Insulin is used to lower blood sugar, while glucagon is used to raise it when it falls too low.

Rosen said that teachers and other nonmedical staff should be trained to give diabetic students emergency aid, just the way parents are.

Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, agrees. He favors a bill that allows trained nonmedical school staff to administer glucagon to diabetic students in emergencies.

"My nephew got diabetes when he was 21/2 years old," McGee said. "I have been involved with the issue and understand the needs."

The bill, refiled by Sen. James Timilty, D-Attleboro, was brought before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing last session but did not move further.

Similar laws have been passed in 10 states, including California, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Chris Boynton, who heads the Eastern New England Chapter of the American Diabetes Association, said not every school has a nurse at all times.

"Sometimes the nurse may not be in the building," Boynton said. "And glucagon has to be given as soon as possible."

According to the association, there have been cases where glucagon was not given immediately, leading to complications such as brain damage.

Julia Hart, the co-founder of Highlow Diabetes in Newburyport, a network for children with juvenile diabetes, is in favor of the bill. She has a 7-year-old son.

"My son, Austin, is diabetic," she said. "It'll be great if the teacher can handle an emergency. But I'm scared the bill undermines the need for every school to have a nurse."

Similar concerns were raised by members of the Joint Health Care Financing Committee when the bill was heard last week.

Committee members were apprehensive about another section of the bill that would allow diabetic students, with a parent's and doctor's permission, to test themselves and self-administer insulin and glucose.

"If parents make a mistake and the child is not responsible enough, it'll be too late," said Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, the committee's Senate chairman.

Janice Kersker, the lead nurse of Beverly High School, said some diabetic children, even high schoolers, can be irresponsible.

"We have at least 15 diabetic students in our system. If we can trust them depends on different things," she said. "Sometimes, they don't want to learn. Sometimes we have to reinforce the fact that they should be more careful."