High school students all have one thing in common: the feeling of excitement that they get when they spot a friend in the hallway. The friend not only provides them with a support system but also an outlet for life’s daily setbacks.
But for three students diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at Walpole High School, the peers that they have the most in common with are the ones which they are forced to avoid.
For sophomore Deirdre Erwin who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis in 2001, being the only student in the building with CF was what she was accustomed to, until this year.
With Jimmy Haskins and Sarah McAvoy entering WHS this year, the 2016-2017 school year marks the first time that three students with CF have attended Walpole High simultaneously.
Haskins and McAvoy were also diagnosed with CF early in their lives and grew accustomed to the limitations it created for each of them in middle school; however, similar to Erwin, they both had to adjust to the added complexity of the new dynamic at the high school.
This rare disease causes a buildup of mucus that impedes proper lung function and causes many long-term health issues.
Patients with CF cannot stand within six feet of other CF patients, but for high school students, this limitation poses a problem with the often-crowded hallways. Patient to patient contact could mean the passing on of untreatable bacteria that live for an hour and a half outside of the body. These bacteria can facilitate the symptoms of CF and lead to death.
However, School Nurse Rachel Jackson prepared for months to create a plan of action that would make the school safer for all of the students.
“I wanted to make sure that they know to communicate whatever they want to do, they just have to let me know and I can make it happen,” said Jackson. “If they want to stay after, they have to let me know so I can make sure that the other two students are not staying after, or, if they are, that they will be far enough apart.”
Additionally, Jackson met with guidance to formulate an academic schedule for each of the students that would avoid possible confrontation, designated a specific seat for each student in the auditorium and marked off an individual bathroom for each student to use.
However, Erwin has found a way to defy this complication by reaching out to one of the freshmen with CF.
“I actually Snapchat one of the students and I reached out to them at the beginning of the school year to tell them that I was there if they needed me,” said Erwin, “I felt we could relate about a ton of things because they could actually understand how life with this disease is.”
Although two of the students have found a way to safely communicate, the threat of cross-infection is something that will forever prevent them from meeting face-to-face.
Nurse Jackson’s efforts to diminish the risks have not gone unnoticed, as the parents of the students with CF trust Jackson to organize the most beneficial plan for their children.
“Rachel Jackson has spent a lot of time preparing for this school year and educating the staff about CF,” said McAvoy’s mother. “She has gone above and beyond to make the school a safe and welcoming place for her CF students.”
“She has put our mind at ease given the effort that she has put forth concerning this complex set of circumstances,” said Haskins’ mother. “We have the utmost faith that Nurse Jackson and the Walpole School System will continue to make every effort to ensure the health and safety of all three students.”