Jennifer Jacobs had been a school nurse for over 30 years but she never encountered a situation like this. When a diabetic student came into her office with low blood sugar, the nurse did what she knew to do: offer orange juice and a granola bar. That normally did the trick to raise sugar levels, but not for this middle schooler. When the poor student fainted and was on the verge of dying, Jennifer took a drastic measure to save the student’s life, one that she knew might cost her her job.
A Dangerous Situation
Jennifer had been working at Glenview Middle School in East Moline, IL, for the past 17 years. One day, during her lunch break, a student came in for assistance. The diabetic student had low blood sugar and Jennifer’s assistant began giving her the standard snacks. Unfortunately, the student’s blood sugar kept falling.
Shortly after Jennifer returned from lunch, the student passed out onto the floor. “[She] wasn’t seizing but was tremoring, and her eyes were rolling back in her head,” Jennifer shared in an interview with NPR. She then tried to apply glucose gel inside the student’s cheek, but the medication slowly slid out the student’s mouth. “It was beyond anything that we could do,” Jennifer shared.
Taking The Risk
Well, it was beyond what Jennifer could legally do. She and her assistant had an injection of a hormone called glucagon in their office that would help a diabetic quickly recover from a crash, much like an EpiPen for allergies. However, that injection belonged to another student in case of emergencies. Jennifer was conflicted about using it. Since it belonged to another student, it wasn’t for Jennifer to use on someone else. “In my mind, I’m thinking, well I could lose my RN license for this. I could lose everything. I’m putting the school district at a huge liability risk. I mean, it could’ve been hugely detrimental,” Jennifer shared. “But how do you not do this to save the girl’s life? How do you not? It just comes down to that. How do you not?”
It was a risk that the nurse was willing to take. If Jennifer didn’t use the medication, the girl would begin to seize and stop breathing altogether. The veteran nurse made a quick decision. She grabbed the hormone shot and injected the student. Paramedics arrived and administered a second shot while on the way to the hospital. “This girl was crashing so severely that the one I administered wasn’t even affecting her,” Jennifer stated. “Think what would’ve happened if I hadn’t used that one. That gives me goosebumps. That makes me nauseous.”
Making A Difference
Jennifer’s quick thinking did help to save the student who is expected to make a full recovery. She later advised the girl’s family to invest in a glucagon kit for their daughter, especially since the girl’s blood sugar is prone to sudden swings. The nurse also called the other student’s family and explained the situation. The school made sure to replace the child’s glucagon the very next day. Even though all was well, the incident made Jennifer want to take further action.
Jennifer worked to persuade her state representative, Democrat Michael Halpin of Rock Island, IL, to file legislation to allow schools to buy glucagon and keep it on hand for students. Costs of this hormone can be quite expensive for families, ranging from $200-$350 out of pocket. If schools could provide the medication for emergency situations such as this, it would be very helpful. “It just makes sense,” Jennifer stated. “We have a school-provided inhaler for students that have severe asthmatic reactions. And schools have EpiPens for severe allergic reactions. And we have Narcan to be used for opioid overdoses.” That bill was heard and cleared in the House of Representatives and is moving on to the Senate for further review. However, it is hopeful that Jennifer’s great suggestion will impact diabetic students across the country.
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