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Ear to the Ground

Did Austerity Kill a Little Girl?

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Posted on Oct 14, 2013
Neil T (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As many government services remain unavailable, a bereaved father blames Philadelphia’s resource-starved school district for failing to save his asthmatic daughter’s life.

“Sixth-grader Laporshia Massey died from asthma complications, according to her father, who says he rushed her to the emergency room soon after she got home from school on the afternoon of Sept. 25,” writes Philadelphia City Paper reporter Daniel Denvir. “He says Laporshia had begun to feel ill earlier that day at Bryant Elementary School, where a nurse is on staff only two days a week. This day was not one of those days.

“He told City Paper that he received a call, from someone he assumed was the nurse, informing him that his 12-year-old daughter was sick,” Denvir continues. “Daniel Burch, recovering from his own asthma troubles the night before, was sleepy—but believes it was near the end of the school day. His fianceé, Sherri Mitchell, was walking her younger children home from school when she too received a call from Bryant. Mitchell, who volunteers at the school, said Laporshia told her, ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ 

“But neither Burch nor Mitchell realized how serious the situation was. Burch, who told his daughter they would take care of her symptoms when she got home, believes that a trained professional would have seen the danger. ‘Why,’ he asks, ‘didn’t [the school] take her to the hospital?’ ”

Laporshia arrived home at about 3:15 p.m. On seeing her condition, Burch immediately gave her medication and rushed her to the hospital. She collapsed in the car, at which point Burch flagged down an ambulance in the middle of traffic. He says his daughter died later at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Denvir reports.

“They told her school was almost out, and she’d get out of school and go straight home,” Denvir quotes one district source as saying. “She went to the teacher,” who told her “there’s no nurse, and just to be calm.” 

Mitchell, who said she wasn’t sure the school was aware of the girl’s asthma, said that the first time she heard of the trouble was after 2 p.m. A school staff member drove Laporshia home after classes let out.

“Once she got home, it wasn’t like she walked in here like she was [just a little] sick,” Mitchell said. “She ran up the steps and got on the [nebulizer] machine because she knew the procedures of what she needed to do to save her life.”

The school district’s rules require that the principal or a designated person “must act promptly to provide immediate care,” once he or she has heard “of an ill or injured person.” Denvir writes: “The District source believes that Laporshia’s life could have been saved if the school had responded appropriately to her illness. ‘If they had called rescue, she would still be here today,’ the source said.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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