Ontario has made it illegal for schools to keep inhalers away from kids suffering from asthma with legislation crafted following the death of a 12-year-old boy.
Ryan's Law is named for Ryan Gibbons, who died Oct. 9, 2012, after suffering an asthma attack during recess. His school in Straffordville, southeast of London, did not allow him to keep his puffer with him, despite repeated efforts by his mother and a doctor's note.
"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 Thursday. "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."
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Gibbons said her son was an energetic boy who loved motorbikes and hiking with her in the woods.
"There's so much I can say about him and it's just really hard because it's just — you miss him," she said through tears.
It seems like a matter of common sense that kids would have access to their life-saving medication, said Progressive Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek, who introduced the private member's bill passed unanimously Thursday.
School boards across the province had a patchwork of policies on inhalers and though some provinces have policies similar to Ryan's Law, the Asthma Society of Canada's president and CEO said he believes Ontario will be the first to enact a law.
"There are still school boards all across this country and schools within those boards that don't allow children to carry their puffers," said Rob Oliphant.
"It's usually part of a blanket understanding of medications, so they say medications are unsafe, they have that idea in their head, so they lock them up in the principal's office."
An asthma sufferer himself, Oliphant said it's stressful to not have his inhaler nearby.
"It is exactly the same with children," he said.
"Children need to have the confidence that their medication is near them, that if they have an exacerbation, if they're out running in a playground they have something with them. Not only do their triggers actually affect their lungs...but the stress of not having a puffer available can actually exacerbate it and make it a worse feeling."
1 in 5 Ontario kids have asthma
Once the bill receives royal assent every school in Ontario will be required to allow a student to carry asthma medication with the permission of their parent or guardian and doctor.
It will also require schools to develop ways to reduce exposure to asthma triggers and that every principal develop an individual plan for each student who has asthma with the child's doctor.
George Habib, president and CEO of the Ontario Lung Association, said about 570,000 children and teens in the province have asthma — about one in five.
"It's because asthma is so common, we can easily forget it's a very dangerous disease and it can be fatal," he said.