Hero Award Presented to School Nurse Lynn Foley
At the February School Board meeting, Dr. B. Keith Rowland, Superintendent of Shenandoah County Schools, presented a Hero Award to Lynn Foley, School Nurse at Stonewall Jackson High School. The Hero Award is a recognition that Shenandoah County Public Schools created several years ago to honor employees or students whose actions have saved another person’s life. The award has previously been given to a school bus driver, another school nurse, and a North Fork Middle School student. The Hero Award was bestowed on Lynn Foley because she recognized that a teacher had a potentially fatal health issue and convinced that teacher to immediately go to the Emergency Room.
Possible Tragedy Averted
Dr. Keith Rowland, Superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools,
presents Hero Award to Lynn Foley as SJHS Principal Mike Dorman observes.
Photo by Laymon Mowery.
Lynn Foley, Stonewall Jackson High School's nurse, reacts happily to
presentation of Hero Award at February School Board meeting. Photo by
“It all started eight or nine days earlier with a cramp in the calf of my leg.” said Jeff Burner, social studies teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School. Dan Carroll, athletic trainer at Stonewall, tried to convince him to get the cramp checked out. Burner’s wife, Amy Tran, who is herself an athletic trainer, also prodded Jeff to go the doctor.
“Being the hard-headed person that I am,” Burner said, “I didn’t go to the doctor. I ignored the cramp.” It was basketball season, he explained, and he was often sore from the rigors of coaching and from participation in practice sessions. Besides, he had games and practices and no time for a doctor’s appointment.
Then on January 30 in the middle of his second class, the sharpest pain he had ever felt in his life, hit Burner in the right side of his chest. If he moved his arms, the pain radiated under his collar bone and into his back. “It felt as if someone was actually stabbing me,” said Burner. Between second and third block, he walked down the hall to consult the school nurse, Lynn Foley.
Foley checked his vital signs, which were fine. And, his lungs were clear and his heart was strong. A physical exam of the painful area did not reveal any skeletal or muscular reason for the pain…no redness or swelling or anything that may have indicated an injury. Foley proceeded to question Burner about recent activities. Nothing stood out as unusual except there had been a triple overtime game the night before. Perhaps, Foley reasoned, Burner had strained a muscle during his own physical responses to the game. He did remember jumping and throwing his arms back as he reacted to plays and referees’ calls. Nurse Foley gave him an ice pack to apply to the painful area, and he went back to class.
The ice pack eased the pain only a little. So, Burner returned to talk to Foley after class was over. Foley resumed questioning him –“grilling him” she said, trying very hard to find a reason for the sharp pain in his chest. In her nurse’s mind, she had found no reason for the pain and that concerned her greatly.
Suddenly, Jeff Burner mentioned the cramp in his calf that he had first felt more than a week earlier. Nurse Foley listened but did not comment on the cramp. Instead she told him he was slightly dehydrated (which he was) and advised him to drink a Gatorade and go on back to class. The truth was that she wanted a moment alone to think. That cramping in his calf brought to her mind thoughts of a very real and grave danger. Still, she did not want to unnecessarily alarm Burner.
In the minute it took Jeff Burner to get a Gatorade and walk back to class, Foley had re-considered the information and felt strongly that she knew what was wrong, and it was not good. She knew, too, that she had to warn Coach Burner.
Nurse Foley believed the cramping in Coach Burner’s calf must have been a thrombosis—a blood clot. That clot dislodged and traveled through his circulatory system to his right lung, she reasoned. There, a clot would cause severe pain and damage lung tissue. And, of most importance, Nurse Foley knew that a pulmonary (lung) embolism was an emergency. And, in fact, it could be fatal in a short amount of time.
She dialed Jeff Burner’s classroom and bluntly told him that she thought he had a pulmonary embolism and that he must go to the emergency room and he must go now. She emphasized that he not go to any urgent care center—he must go to the hospital and request blood work and a CT Scan. Again, she emphasized that he must leave school immediately.
The self-described “hard headed” Jeff Burner listened to Nurse Foley! He left school immediately and drove himself to the hospital. He told the ER personnel that the nurse at Stonewall Jackson High School believed he had a pulmonary embolism. After waiting for 1 ½ hours, he was examined by a doctor who told him that they would do the initial blood test to check certain parameters that would indicate a blood clot. However, the ER doctor told Burner that his blood test would be negative simply because Burner did not fit the typical person who has a blood clot. He does not drink or smoke and he exercises regularly.
The ER doctor returned thirty minutes later to tell Jeff that, to his surprise, the measures that might indicate a blood clot were slightly elevated; and therefore, they must do the CT Scan, which he was sure would indicate no blood clots.
Forty-five minutes later, the ER doctor returned to the emergency room with, according to Burner, “a very white face.” “Fireworks”—was the word the doctor used to describe Jeff Burner’s CT Scan. There were 12-15 blood clots which light up the screen, he explained.
Burner was ordered into bed and told not to move. Immediately he was put on intravenous medications to thin his blood. It was three days before he was discharged from the hospital. And, history was made---Coach Burner missed his first girls’ basketball game in 21 years!
Coach Burner says that he has gained a lot of medical knowledge in the past few weeks. He says, too, that he feels lucky. Mainly, though, Jeff Burner and his family are feeling very thankful for Lynn Foley. They sent her cards and paid her, Jeff said, in something she loves—chocolate!
Lynn Foley graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School in 1981 and from Triplett Tech in 1983 She is a Licensed Practical Nurse with multi-state privileges. She earned her EMT certification in1984 and completed requirements to be qualified as a Limited Radiologic Technologist in 2001. She has had both personal and professional experience with pulmonary embolisms.
Foley is in her second year as a School Nurse for Stonewall Jackson High School and Triplett Tech. “School nurses care for faculty as well as students,” Foley, who has been involved in nursing for thirty years, commented in a recent interview.
Jeff Burner is married to Amy Tran, former athletic trainer at Stonewall Jackson. He and his wife are the proud parents of a son and a daughter.