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Saving Lives and Changing Laws: The Story of One School Nurse and Glucagon

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by Melissa Mills Melissa Mills, BSN (Member) Writer Innovator Verified

Melissa Mills has 20 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Health and Wellness Writing, Leadership.

9 Followers; 108 Articles; 21,396 Visitors; 266 Posts

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What would you do if the law stood between you and the life of your patient? Two Illinois nurses faced this exact situation last year. Find out what they did and how one has been working to change the law so that this doesn't happen again.

Saving Lives and Changing Laws: The Story of One School Nurse and Glucagon

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you had to make a life or death decision knowing that it could jam up your license or even cause you to lose them? Jennifer Jacobs, a Registered Nurse, working in a public school made a challenging decision last year when a seventh-grade student who had diabetes came to her office during lunch with low blood sugar. 

When the student entered the school nurse's office, she was greeted by Heather Wengler, LPN who jumped to action. Jacobs was at lunch at the time, but returned and began assisting within a few minutes.  The two nurses gave the student food and glucose tabs only for her blood sugar to continue to drop. At one point, the student fell to the floor and went unconscious. Jacobs told the Tri States Public Radio, "[She] wasn't seizing but was tremoring, and her eyes were rolling back in her head….." Jacobs gave a dose of glucose gel. However, because the student was drooling, it ran right out of her mouth. 

This is when the two nurses conferred with one another and decided to make a difficult decision. They knew the student needed a dose of glucagon, but this particular student didn't have the drug in her supplies. However, another student did. And, in the state of Illinois, glucagon isn't a drug that schools keep in stock for nurses to give following a standing protocol. 

Glucagon Dose

Jacobs told the news channel that she knew giving the drug might mean losing her license and placing the school district at huge liability risk. She also knew that the other option was to do nothing and risk the student slipping further into the hypoglycemic episode, seizures, breathing difficulty, and ultimately death. She made the split-second decision that was confirmed by Wengler to take the glucagon from the other student's supply and administer it to the student in distress. Paramedics arrived and delivered a second glucagon dose on the way to the hospital. The student made a full recovery, and the school replaced the dose of glucagon to the student for which it was ordered.

You might think this story ends here. However, Jacobs knew that she needed to do something about this law that left her placing herself in jeopardy to do the right thing for the student. She contacted her state representative, Michael Halpin of Rock Island to discuss the possibility of changing the law to add glucagon to a list of other drugs that can be given per a standing protocol. These drugs include an EpiPen for allergic reactions, Narcan for opioid overdoses, and an inhaler for asthmatic episodes. Halpin agreed to help with the legislation which has now cleared the house and will soon be heard in the Senate. So far, the proposed law has been met with unanimous approval. 

The most impressive part of this story isn't that Jacobs gave the medication. It's that she recognized a barrier to care, took the risk, and then refused to sit back and allow this to be another Illinois school nurse's dilemma in the future. She acted with quick and just decision making to see what more she could do. 

Have you ever been faced with a similar care issue where you had to decide between "right" and "legal"? If so, we would love for you to leave a comment and let us know about the situation, how it turned out, and if you would do it again. If you have never been in a similar situation, share your thoughts on Jacobs' and Wengler's actions.

Would you have done the same or do you think they should have acted in another way? 

 

Melissa is a professor, medical writer, and business owner. She has been a nurse for over 20 years and enjoys combining her nursing knowledge and passion for the written word. She is available for writing, editing, and coaching services. You can see more of her work at www.melissamills.net.

9 Followers; 108 Articles; 21,396 Visitors; 266 Posts

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JBMmom has 6 years experience as a MSN and specializes in Long term care; med-surg; critical care.

1 Follower; 11,468 Visitors; 694 Posts

Thank goodness for the quick thinking of these nurses, I hope there are no negative actions against them for what they did. And to follow it up with working towards making changes that could help other students as well is wonderful! Thanks to Ms. Jacobs for her efforts in improving the life and health of her students, and others that will benefit.

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tnbutterfly is a BSN, RN and specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

13 Followers; 117 Articles; 194,192 Visitors; 5,341 Posts

Great story, Melissa.  I'm glad these school nurses acted in the best interest of the student.  Jennifer Jacobs went even further with this paving the way for safety for other diabetic students.  Nurses can be and are great change agents. 

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3 Followers; 33,981 Visitors; 4,216 Posts

Was the nurse prosecuted?

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traumaRUs has 27 years experience as a MSN, APRN and specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

15 Followers; 135 Articles; 186,875 Visitors; 20,738 Posts

Not as of now. I did look her up and she currently has an active RN license. However, (and a big however) IDPFR can still come after her with a complaint since she did this BEFORE the law was changed. 

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2,708 Visitors; 56 Posts

I say Bravo!  Saving a LIFE is more important than letting someone die.  If she were to lose her license I believe she could live with herself not being a nurse any longer than living her life knowing that because she did not act someone (in this case a child) died.  Bravo that she has worked to get the glucagon on the list for school nurses.  Also she should have the support of the parent(s) of this child and the child's doctor since they failed to have a prescription available for this BRITTLE diabetic. IMHO.

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traumaRUs has 27 years experience as a MSN, APRN and specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

15 Followers; 135 Articles; 186,875 Visitors; 20,738 Posts

I’m very familiar with this school. EMS is only a few minutes away 

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Sneech11 has 28 years experience as a LPN.

109 Visitors; 2 Posts

If the student had been presented to me with severe hypoglycemia symptoms described I would have first called 911,then grabbed the nearest glucagon injection I could get my hands on,protocol and laws be damned. That just what a nurse does,personal feelings aside. I figure karma will take care of the rest.

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