The sudden and tragic death of 12-year-old Ryan Gibbons after he suffered an asthma attack at school in 2012 is a stark reminder that a flare-up can happen at any time and can be fatal.
Approximately one in five children in Canada are currently living with asthma, a chronic lung disease that can make breathing difficult and can in some instances, lead to death. This was the case for Ryan Gibbons, a 12-year-old grade 7 student who went to school on October 9, 2012 and didn’t return home.
Ryan suffered an asthma attack at school and was unable to reach his rescue medication, which was locked in the school office, in time to open his airways and allow him to breathe. It was his school’s policy to keep the inhalers locked in the principal’s office and spare inhalers were repeatedly confiscated from Ryan.
After her son’s death, Sandra Gibbons started a petition asking the Ontario government to force school boards to adopt standardized asthma management plans, and urged all three parties to pass a private member’s bill from Progressive Conservative Jeff Yurek.
Known as Ryan’s Law, Bill 135 has now passed second reading with all-party support in the legislature. It will require Ontario school boards to establish standardized asthma policies, which must include strategies to reduce risk of exposure to asthma triggers, provide regular training for staff on recognizing and managing asthma symptoms, and allow students to carry their own asthma inhalers.
It also will require that school principals to develop individual plans and maintain files for each student with asthma, while allowing staff to administer asthma medication if a student is having an asthma attack.
The Ontario Lung Association is advocating for a province–wide policy on accessibility to emergency-management inhalers in schools. An informed and standardized asthma policy in the Ontario school system would help to make sure that children with asthma can live healthy and active lives.
Since Ryan’s death, his mother has vowed to do whatever she could to prevent another family from going through what she went through. This video from the Ontario Lung Association is part of her campaign to raise awareness about the need to create environments where children with asthma can breathe freely and safely.
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