2007_1_health_asthma.jpgThanks to treatment advances over the past few decades, the death of a child from asthma has become rare. So when it happens because teachers and school officials don't know what they're doing, it's completely unacceptable. But that's what happened to 11-year-old Shawn Martinez, a Brooklyn public school student, who died soon after school nurses, under the impression that they were not allowed to dial 911 without the express permission of the principal, failed to act. It was later revealed that such permission was not required for medical emergencies. A lawsuit is currently underway.

However, a story in the Daily News today suggests that this incident is a scary representation of the lackluster health care that the 300,000 asthmatic students get in City schools, with less than 2% of city elementary school teachers knowing the Department of Education policies on handling the disease. The News cited an example of a student who did not receive prompt treatment owing to "incorrect" authorization paperwork provided by parents or simply. Another child's treatment was delayed when a nurse didn't know that the student had a permitted asthma inhaler in the nurse's office, only to have the 5-year-old girl's mother go and find it herself.

Department of Education spokesperson Marge Feinberg says that any school staff member is allowed to call 911 and that students are permitted to carry and take their own medication, provided the requisite forms are provided.

Asthma is an inflammatory condition where the lungs become hyper-irritable, in a sense, going into spasm and overproduce mucus, leading to narrowing of the airways and virtual suffocation. Here are the Department of Health's asthma info page and a map relating asthma incidence to city bus depot locations.