Dr. Harvey Miller references the 2003 death of Rashidi Wheeler, a Northwestern University football player who died on the practice field after suffering an asthma attack his inhaler was unable to combat. There are other cases since then—cases of young athletes succumbing to an asthma attack so severe the prescription in their inhalers wasn’t adequate to save their life.
Now Miller hopes that “Resolution 161,” a bill introduced by State Assemblyman Philip Boyle of Bay Shore, and State Sen. Owen Johnson of Babylon, will make way for nebulizers to be on site at all school sporting events.
Nebulizers—which run about $150 apiece—are electric operated machines that dispense the drug albuterol in larger doses than hand-held inhalers. Miller, an MD who specializes in asthma cases, explained that under the current state law, nebulizers cannot be administered to students without the presence of a nurse or physician. Resolution 161 would change that determination, and open the door for non-medical personnel, such as coaches, parents and assistants, to use the nebulizer.
“The bottom line is that it could save a life,” said Miller, who has been seeking the passage of this bill in earnest since 2008. “I even had organizations willing to donate nebulizers, but we couldn’t get past the liability issue.”
At Sachem, the athletic department has a process by which they log and account for each athlete’s personal inhaler, according to Athletic Director Pete Blieberg. The labeling of the inhalers is to ensure that prescriptions don’t get mixed up among athletes in the event of an emergency. The inhalers are on-site during the student’s participation in a sporting event and can be readily accessed. Bleiberg said that although he would welcome any legislation that helps kids, he would approach Resolution 161 with caution.
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“The problem is you have different levels of [albuterol] for each student,” Blieberg said. “You’re now asking coaches to take on a new responsibility on the field. And of course you’ll have to train every coach. If a coach administers the incorrect dosage, is he now liable? So these things have to be ironed out before they get put in place.”
The bill is currently sitting with a committee in Albany and has not yet been brought to the floor for an official vote.