Beyond the ordinary at Mack Benn

Published 8:07 pm Monday, October 19, 2015

Most folks think school nurses are around to dispense aspirin, take temperatures and apply the occasional Band-Aid. On a very good day, and unusual day, those duties might be the most complicated and serious things that take place in the nurse’s office at an average elementary school.

But school nurses’ jobs are actually a lot more complex these days. A statement on the National Education Association website puts it well: “A typical schedule can encompass immunizations, health care screenings, hearing and vision testing; dealing with home accidents, diseases such as diabetes and asthma, student obesity, special needs like tube-feeding, preventing the spread of disease through blood exposure; and the fallout from mental, emotional and social problems, including arranging for disadvantaged students to receive breakfast and clothing, and even helping students cope who are homeless or whose parents are incarcerated.”

But even those tasks pale in significance when compared with the responsibility Stacy Breneman faced last month. Breneman is the school nurse at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School, and on Sept. 28, second-grade teacher Brittany Koman, in her first year of teaching, had sent 7-year-old Amaryana Harden to see Breneman because the youngster had complained about a pain in her chest that would not go away.

Email newsletter signup

Koman had just recently spoken to Breneman about the former’s worry that she was sending too many children to the nurse’s office with various physical complaints. Maybe she was too quick to think something was really wrong, the teacher wondered.

But in Amaryana’s case Breneman determined quickly that the girl had a real problem. Listening to her heart with a stethoscope, the nurse heard a murmur. “I knew something was not right,” she told the Suffolk News-Herald’s Tracy Agnew in an incredible account of Amaryana’s story in Sunday’s edition.

Breneman got in touch with Amaryana’s mother and convinced her the girl should be examined at a hospital. After stops at both Sentara Obici Hospital and Sentara BelleHarbour, mother and daughter wound up at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, where they learned that Amaryana had a serious problem — one that was causing her heart rate to drop into extremely dangerous territory. Surgery to install a pacemaker a few days later revealed the girl was born without nerves in the top two chambers of her heart.

Doctors said it was something of a miracle Amaryana had survived to her present age. Furthermore, they said, the problem with her heart was not the type that should have caused Amaryana the chest pains that alerted first her teacher and then her school nurse to a problem.

Amaryana’s mother attributes her daughter’s unusual pain to an angel’s intercession. But she also acknowledges — as do we — the incredible importance of the two angels at Mack Benn, the teacher and the nurse who recognized that a 7-year-old was suffering from something far beyond the ordinary, something neither aspirin nor Band-Aids were going to fix.