Schools must stock epinephrine

Published 10:35 pm Friday, June 29, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories focusing on new laws that take effect Sunday.

Seven-year-old Amarria Denise Johnson, a first-grader at Hopkins Elementary School in Chesterfield, died after going into anaphylactic shock at school on Jan. 2, 2012.

The little girl loved to tell jokes, take care of animals and make up her own songs. She hoped to become a teacher, according to a resolution enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in her memory.

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Though she’ll never get the chance to become a teacher, Amarria’s legacy will live on in schools across the state through “Amarria’s Law,” which requires all public schools in the state to keep epinephrine injections on hand.

The law goes into effect Sunday, but schools have until September to have everything in place, said Janice White, supervisor of health services for Suffolk Public Schools.

An epinephrine injection can help slow an anaphylactic reaction to an allergen, such as food. The reactions can be severe and often life-threatening. Amarria died after a classmate, unaware of her severe allergies, gave her a peanut on the playground.

The school nurse should already have epinephrine on hand for each student who has been diagnosed with severe allergies, White said. The new law also requires schools to keep “non-student-specific” epinephrine injectors for students with undiagnosed allergies.

“I think it’s a good bill, because it will protect those persons that have unknown allergies,” White said. “If they should have an allergic reaction, we can give them the epinephrine and call 911.”

Several employees at each school will be trained by the nurse to recognize symptoms of anaphylactic shock and give the injection. The principal will recommend which employees should be trained.

White said the automatic injectors are pre-measured. Someone giving the injection would simply have to stick it in the child’s thigh and push the plunger.

“It gives immediate help,” White said. “You don’t have to stand there and wait for 911 to come.”