Tweens suspended for sharing an inhaler during an asthma attack

A 12-year-old in Garland, Texas, is learning the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. When Indiyah Rush saw a friend struggling to breathe in gym class, she thought she was doing the right thing by sharing her rescue inhaler with her.

Not so, says her school, who has put both honor roll girls on suspension and is sending them to an alternative school for sharing a “controlled substance.”

Rush, who has coped with asthma since she was 5, was in gym class when she saw Alexis Kyle, fellow seventh-grader and asthma sufferer, wheezing and gasping for breath — two telltale signs of an asthma attack. She did what she’d learned to do for herself in times of breathlessness: She whipped out her trusty rescue inhaler and offered it to her friend.

That’s a pretty smart and empathetic thing to do, and one that should be met with a “hey, good lookin’ out, kid!” on the part of the school, but that didn’t happen. Instead, both girls were sent to the principal’s office, given a thorough tutting, were suspended and now face 30 days in an alternative school.

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Asthma attacks are no joke. If you’ve ever had one or witnessed one, you know what it’s like to feel that utter sense of panic, that singular focus on making your body do the one thing it can’t — draw a good, satisfying breath. When it’s hard to breathe, a few other things are hard too, like talking, crying and, sometimes, not throwing up.

These are all things Rush may have been thinking about when she offered up her trusty albuterol dispenser to her friend. And she should know. In what is a pretty apt description of what it feels like to futilely gasp for breath, she said she acted when she did because “asthma gets worse every second.” That takes some degree of brains, quick thinking and not a little empathy. She did good, but she’s being punished as though she made a stupid, or worse, malicious mistake.

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We tend to think of asthma as falling on the “no big deal” end of the chronic disease spectrum, thanks in no small part that we have a pretty effective way of making sure people don’t have to die from it: rescue inhalers. But make no mistake: Asthma is a big deal, and an asthma attack can be deadly. About 185 kids die from one annually.

This is worth mentioning because it is not necessarily an exaggeration to say that Rush’s actions might have saved her friend’s life, nor is it entirely speculation. Kyle’s stepfather is nothing but grateful for the heroic tween’s actions, telling a local news outlet that “the little girl saved her life… The reason we say that is because we have been in situations where we’ve been in the ICU, so I know how serious her asthma can be.”

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That fact alone deserves some consideration from school officials. Yes, sharing asthma medication doesn’t come without some potential risk, and the rules that schools have in place in regard to sharing medication are there for a reason. They could help cut down on prescription drug abuse, and they attempt to mitigate any injury that could arise from giving medication to a child who could have a bad reaction to it.

But this is not a case of two girls popping Adderall in the girls’ room. This is a case of one student with asthma giving another student with asthma some asthma medication she thought would help. Disaster was averted, no one had to call an ambulance, and the child’s parents are grateful.

So why are they being given the same punishment as kids who are caught with heavier drugs? Because that’s the justification the school has: that this is the automatic punishment for “sharing controlled substances,” no exceptions, sorry. It’s another instance of where common sense should trump knee-jerk zero-tolerance policies, which only lead to kids being booted out of school for finger guns and aggressive staring.

We hope the school reconsiders, because right now the only lesson these girls could learn from the punishment they’re being given is that when you see someone in danger, it’s always best to look the other way and let someone else handle it.