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| March 5, 2015

What would you guess are some of the most frequent health referrals found in elementary students during their Healthe Kids Screenings? Weight management issues? Vision difficulties? Dental decay?

While those are all pretty common, another recurring theme this year has been foreign objects in ears. It’s amazing what kids will put in their ears. And for eight-year-old Bethany, it’s unimaginable how it got there.

Bethany’s mom, Laura, readily signed her daughter up for a Healthe Kids screening as soon as it was available at her school. Though Bethany routinely visited her doctor’s office for well-child exams, Laura wanted an extra pair of eyes to verify that Bethany was as healthy as can be.

The third grader passed most of her screening with flying colors—her vision, BMI, vital signs and hearing all appeared to be in check. Then during the head-to-toe exam portion of the screening, the Healthe Kids nurse used an otoscope to check that Bethany’s tympanic membranes were nice and healthy, but she noticed a possible foreign object in the left ear.

“A lot of times we find the blue tip of a Bic pen or a rock that either the child or a sibling stuffed in the ear,” explained Sharon, the Healthe Kids nurse. “This kind of thing needs to be caught early because ear wax can build up around it and it can fester, becoming an infection. The blockage can also create a temporary loss of hearing, impeding the student’s ability to function at home or learn in school.”

Sharon called over another Healthe Kids nurse to double-check her finding. The pair then walked Bethany to the school nurse, Amber, and explained the situation. They proceeded to document a referral for Bethany to receive follow-up care and called Laura to explain the referral.

“Bethany hadn’t been complaining of her ear hurting, so I had no idea anything was wrong,” Laura recalled.

Concerned, Laura immediately took action. She sped to the health room at Bethany’s school where she and Amber rechecked the ear.

“I looked into Bethany’s ear and started freaking out. I saw something that was white and thin, so I thought it was a bone or something. You always overreact when it comes to your kids,” Laura admitted.

Laura was hopeful that Amber could retrieve the object, but it was too deep in the ear canal. Not wanting to create further damage, Amber suggested that Bethany visit her pediatrician or an ENT. But Laura had recently lost her job, and thus her health insurance—a trip to the doctor was an extra expense she just couldn’t afford.

So Amber talked with the Healthe Kids team to determine if the First Hand Foundation could help. All three groups worked together quickly and were able to secure funding that day for Bethany’s physician evaluation.

“It was absolutely awesome,” expressed Laura. “The help and the funding really took away my worry let me be able to focus on whether my daughter was all right.”

At the evaluation, the pediatrician tried numerous times to retrieve whatever was stuck in Bethany’s left ear. After several attempts, she was finally able to use special tweezers to pull out a tiny, malleable piece of Styrofoam.

“Honestly, without Healthe Kids, we may never have known anything was in there,” said Laura. “Bethany had no clue how it got there and I never would have thought to look inside her ear closely to check it out.”

Laura recommends that all parents sign their kids up for Healthe Kids Screenings.

“I thought I was covering everything, but I never thought to look in my kids’ ears,” she said. “Especially if you don’t have a relationship with a doctor or you aren’t able to get your kid to see the doctor regularly, it’s just nice to have someone else to help you. We all need help and hopefully they can catch the things we miss.”

School nurse, Amber, agrees.

“The Healthe Kids program is more thorough than I can do during a school day—I have 875 students and I’m the only nurse in the building. Having Healthe Kids has been great for the kids. I think they’re getting access to certain care that they may not get access to otherwise.”

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