When people think of school nurses, they often think of bandaging scrapes, treating bruises or helping ease sore throats. But for Stone Middle School teacher Kenda Felker, the school nurses were literally life savers.
When Felker took a medication for her multiple sclerosis in 2017, she was warned that there may be delayed side effects. However, she didn’t think anything of it when she noticed a sore in her mouth and some rashes on her arms in mid-August.
“On my way home, I noticed a little bump or something inside my mouth and (my husband) said, ‘Well you probably bit the inside of your cheek,’ and I said, ‘OK,’” Felker said. “Then when I woke up the next morning I was spitting up blood and noticed the rashes and bruises on my arms.”
Even with the symptoms, Felker didn’t initially think they were cause for alarm. She thought the blood in her mouth might be a sign of gum infection and chalked the rashes up to poison ivy or something similar.
“Honestly, other than those things, I felt fine,” Felker said.
The morning after she first noticed her symptoms, Felker stopped by the school nurse’s office to use the bathroom and chat with school nurse Jennifer Elrod and nurse assistant Shirley Sanders.
She began describing her symptoms to Sanders, and then to Elrod who entered the room shortly afterwards, and immediately the nurses knew Felker was in dire straits.
“My husband had had the same thing a few years back, so I knew how serious this was, and (Elrod) also recognized what was happening right away,” Sanders said.
Elrod and Sanders recognized the tell-tale signs thrombocytopenia, or a low platelet count Platelets are the cells in the blood that help form blood clots.
The rashes, called petechiae, and bruising were the result of bleeding under the skin.
Elrod and Sanders told Felker she needed to call her doctor. Felker told them not to worry and that she would later, and they told her she needed medical attention immediately
“We were very insistent because we realized time was greatly of the essence,” Elrod said. “We told her, ‘You need to go to your doctor or the emergency room right now, or we’re going to call 9-1-1 to come pick you up,’” Elrod said. “She said, ‘OK, well let me go to the bathroom,’ and I didn’t even want her to do that, because she could fall and even that could cause her to lose a lot of blood when the blood is thin like that.”
Felker heeded the nurses’ advice and had her daughter take her to her doctor. There, she learned that her platelet count was around 2,000. A healthy platelet count ranges from 150,000-450,000.
By the time Felker left the school, she had begun feeling light-headed and tired, she said.
Because of her multiple sclerosis, Felker needed steroids before she could receive a blood transfusion to boost her platelet count, and her doctor told her she needed to go to Dallas for additional medical attention.
Her doctor worried that Felker could have a fatal brain bleed at any time.
“At (2,000) she had basically nothing to make her blood clot, so anything, or even nothing, and she could have bled out and died,” Sanders said.
After Felker found out about her platelet count, she briefly stopped back by Stone Middle School before leaving to go to Dallas. She said she knew something was seriously amiss by the way nobody would tell her exactly what was going on.
“(The school nurses) just told me to go to my doctor, and then my doctor just told me to get to Dallas,” Felker said. “I knew something was wrong but I didn’t even know what was going on.”
“When she told me what her count was, I worried that I might not see her again,” Elrod said. “That’s how serious it was.”
By the time Felker arrived in Dallas, her platelet count had dropped below 1,000, she said. Back in Paris, Elrod and Sanders were very relieved when they saw a social media post from Felker stating she was alright.
“We were so relieved,” Elrod said. “I was very worried and once we saw that she was stable and they had raised her levels up, we felt so much relief. Until we heard that, I was worried we were going to get news of the other, I really was.”
Felker spent two days in Dallas, but then was back at work after leaving the hospital’s care. Upon returning to school, the first place she stopped was the nurse’s office, with a cake, card and heartfelt gratitude.
“It was wonderful and means so much to me, but she didn’t have to do that,” Elrod said. “But it was very much appreciated and heartfelt. It meant a lot that her husband came with her, when he needed to be getting to work too.”
Today, Felker’s platelet count has completely stabilized, she said. She goes to the doctor every two weeks to make sure her levels aren’t dipping back down, but she said she feels fine and hasn’t experienced any of the symptoms since receiving care in August.
“They literally saved my life,” Felker said with tears in her eyes. “I wasn’t feeling that bad, and I could’ve gone on and I might not be here today… It was God’s doing. He brought me to where I needed to be with the people I needed to be with when I needed it most, and I’m so,so thankful.”