Asthma can be fatal: Remembering Ryan Gibbons

Asthma and every attack have the potential to be life-threatening.

The sudden and tragic death of 12-year-old Ryan Gibbons is a stark reminder of that.

Ryan was an energetic boy who loved motorbikes and hiking in the woods – but a fatal mistake would soon take his life.

Back in 2012, he suffered an asthma attack at school.

He could have simply used his inhaler at the beginning of the episode, but the life-saving device had been taken from him.

On October 9, 12-year-old grade 7 student Ryan Gibbons went to school – just like any other day

However, that day he wouldn’t return home.

Sandra Gibbons
Sandra Gibbons

Ryan suffered an asthma attack while playing soccer in school and was unable to reach his rescue medication, which was locked in the school office.

The suffering boy needed his inhaler to open his airways and allow him to breathe.

But it was his school’s policy to keep the inhalers locked in the principal’s office and spare inhalers were repeatedly confiscated from Ryan.

A group of Ryan’s friends tried to carry him to the office during the attack, but the boys couldn’t get to the inhaler in time.

Ryan passed out and never was revived.

Sandra Gibbons

The tragedy occurred at the Elgin Country School in Ontario, Canada, and shook a whole nation.

After an investigation, it became clear that Ryan’s school didn’t allow him to keep his puffer with him, despite repeated efforts by his mother and a doctor’s note.

According to his mother, Sandra Gibbons, Ryan would often bring an extra inhaler to school in order to bypass this rule.

Sandra Gibbons

Asthma attacks aren’t always predictable, and it is dangerous to keep the inhaler locked in a room.

But the school kept taking Ryan’s extra inhaler away.

Ryan’s mom said that the school called her on several occasions, asking her to pick up an inhaler that Ryan had brought to school.

He wasn’t allowed to bring it home.

”You would give him an inhaler but then he would get caught with the inhaler and then it would be taken away,” Sandra Gibbons said, speaking to CBC.

Sandra Gibbons

”Then I’d get a phone call. So it was actually very frustrating. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t realize that the policy actually stated that the prescribed medication needed to be in the office.”

Fortunately, Ryan’s tragic death was not in vain.

Since Ryan’s death, his mother has vowed to do whatever she could to prevent another family from going through what she went through.

After the funeral, 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.

The Lung Association – Ontario

“When Ryan passed away, it was like losing everything that I lived for,” Gibbons told Allergic Living. “After burying my son, I knew that this was a preventable attack. To me, if people had appropriate training and knew what to look for when a child was in distress, he would be here today.”

Sandra’s aimed to change the laws that keep asthmatic children from being able to carry their life-saving devices.

And soon her conscious struggle would generate results.

Known as Ryan’s Law, Bill 135 has now passed with all-party support in the legislature.

Sandra Gibbons

The law forces schools to allow children to have their inhalers in their pocket or backpack with a doctor’s note.

“I’m definitely overwhelmed, very emotional, very happy it’s going to be implemented,” said Sandra Gibbons.

The Asthma Society also applauded the bill’s passage, with president Dr. Rob Oliphant saying “it is essential that children with asthma have ready access to potentially life-saving asthma medications while at school.”

Every state in the U.S. has laws on the books that allow students to carry their asthma inhalers with them – at all times.

However, some kids are still being denied access to these lifesaving medications during the school day. Many schools ban inhalers through their blanket anti-drug policies.

Fatal asthma is a significant problem with more than 10 Americans dying each day from asthma.

Even though death rates have declined in the past decade, any asthma death is potentially preventable.

Ryan Gibbons

I’m so sorry to hear about Ryan’s story. I just hate it when people don’t think and it’s heartbreaking! 

But although Ryan’s history is very tragic, his fate became the decisive factor in changing the lives of thousands of children with asthma.

Without his mother’s struggle for justice, more tragic deaths would probably occur and I am happy that the politicians signed ”Ryan’s law”. 

Let’s pass this article on to remember Ryan and to inform others about the risks of asthma patients not having close access to their inhaler.

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