A yearslong mission to get asthma-controlling nebulizers into New York schools -- and especially on athletic fields -- goes into effect Wednesday, but neither the Islip doctor who initiated the measure nor the legislators who helped make it law think their work is done.
Youngsters with asthma will be able to bring nebulizers to school and to whatever sport they play. Schools, however, are neither required to purchase them nor train teachers in how to use them. But as weak as the new law may seem because of this, the enactment is being hailed as a victory by those who championed it.
"I am absolutely ecstatic, but this isn't the end," said Islip allergist and asthma specialist Dr. Harvey Miller, who began fighting for a change in existing education law in 2003. Since that time, he has visited everyone from New York legislators to other doctors and medical groups to teachers.
Nebulizers differ from the small canisters asthmatics commonly use called inhalers. The small devices release a low dose of albuterol, the drug that relaxes the smooth muscles of the airways to restore normal breathing. But during a severe asthma attack -- the kind that can occur during rigorous exercise -- a stronger dose is required.
The more complex nebulizer -- about $150 -- delivers a larger albuterol dose and transforms the drug into an inhalable mist that quickly relieves inflammation, the hallmark of asthma. Until now, nebulizers were allowed only at those public schools that had a nurse or physician on staff, a situation that alarmed Miller, who worried the devices easily could be locked away during after-school sports.
He backs up his concerns, citing chapter and verse on a litany of chilling asthma statistics, the most notable of which are mortality figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency estimates 5,000 people -- many of them youngsters -- die annually as a direct consequence of the condition, which constricts the lungs' small airways.
Under the new law, students with asthma can now bring their own nebulizer to school.
"This is a common-sense measure because more and more children are suffering from asthma," said Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), who wrote the State Senate's version of the bill, S5915-2015.
Boyle, a former emergency medical technician, knows all too well that asthma can turn deadly under certain conditions.
"We're trying to do something good here for kids with asthma," added Boyle, who has supported Miller since the beginning. "This has been a long struggle."
Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), another strong proponent of student access to nebulizers, supported the measure in the Assembly.
"We have a good law here. We can refine it and make it even stronger as is often the case with many laws," Englebright said. "The concept of protecting children with nebulizers while they are at school to prevent their injury or even death is a worthy goal."
Both Boyle and Englebright said they would fight to bolster the law when the legislature reconvenes.
Miller, who has run the Asthma Education and Support Program at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore for more than a quarter century, is hoping for a stronger New York law that requires schools to have nebulizers on campus, a measure that would bring his effort closer to Louis' Law.
That measure, enacted in 2002, required portable cardiac defibrillators to be placed in New York public schools. The law's namesake was struck in the chest during a lacrosse game 15 years ago, causing the 14-year-old to go into fatal cardiac arrest.The New York law triggered a nationwide push to place portable defibrillators in airports, stadiums, shopping malls and other venues where large numbers of people congregate.
Miller counters critics who argue against turning public schools into emergency medical centers by saying he has only one goal in mind: "I want to save lives. That's what this is all about, saving lives."