JEFFERSON CITY _ It was the phone call that every parent dreads.
Joyce Payne learned that her daughter had left the school in an ambulance.
"One day I had to take an ambulance to the hospital because I was running and playing on the playground," Payne's daughter, Shannon, told some Missouri legislators at a recent meeting of the House Education Committee.
Shannon, a St. Louis County third-grader, had suffered an asthma attack on the day she visited the emergency room. Payne said the entire situation could be avoided if Shannon would have had access to her inhaler. But, under current state law, the medication has to be administered by the school nurse.
"The nurse was not available that day. She was at another school, so they called an ambulance," Payne said. "Can you imagine the call I received? What about other siblings in school hearing from their classmates that their sister was taken away in an ambulance?"
Rep. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, introduced legislation aimed at preventing situations like Shannon's. His bill would allow school children to administer their own medication in life-threatening situations.
Payne said she talked to the school district about Shannon's medication so many times that they knew the sound of her car as it pulled up. She said the school district sympathized, but wouldn't do anything because of a fear of liability.
"I can't go on field trips and take gym class like all the other kids," Shannon said.
Under the bill, parents would have to provide local school officials written authorization for the self-administration of medicine after their child has been properly instructed on how to use it.
The local school board would also be left to decide how old children must be to take medication by themselves.
Pediatric Allergist Mark Vanderwalker said he has often seen children in his office with more severe asthma problems because they couldn't get to their medication on time.
"The more quickly it can be administered at the beginning of an attack, the better chance of not having to go to a hospital," he said.
At the House committee hearing on the proposal, several legislators expressed concern that young children could overdose on the medication. But Vanderwalker said overdosing on inhalers is practically impossible.
"They work right where they are needed: in the airway," he said.
Asthma causes almost 80 deaths in Missouri each year and is the most severe chronic illness for kids, Vanderwalker said. A couple of children have already died during this school year, said Kristen Wilson, the asthma director for the eastern Missouri American Lung Association.
Vanderwalker said he could think of only two other life-threatening diseases that the bill would cover. Children with diabetes must take two insulin doses each day. But Vanderwalker said the bill would not be as pressing for these children because the doses are usually administered at set times during the day. Vanderwalker also cited systematic allergic reactions to foods as an illness possibly covered by the legislation.
House Education Committee Chairman Annette Morgan, D-Kansas City, said she empathized with children like Shannon.
"When I was a little girl, I had asthma," Morgan said. "There was no medication then, so we had to stay home. We couldn't go to camp like all the other kids."