Ericka Talley is a single mother fighting cancer. Raising four children on her own, she can use all the help she can get – and one of the most welcome helpers in her life is Allison Lantz, an Akron Children’s nurse practitioner in Warren City Schools.
The 45-year-old mom found herself in and out the hospital last year, eventually being diagnosed in June with a gastrointestinal cancer, for which she is now undergoing chemotherapy. Juggling her own job in health care and her cancer treatments, Ericka has found it difficult to get her kids to the pediatrician and other appointments.
Ericka’s daughter, Jahniya, 15, had wanted a job to make some extra money but needed a work permit. And a medical physical is required as part of a work permit.
Allison, who oversees the hospital’s School-Based Health Center (SBHC) in Warren Schools, was able to schedule it right away, and Jahniya got the job she wanted at their local Dairy Queen.
“The school came in right at the right time,” said Ericka. “I could fill out the paperwork, they could do the physical right in the school and would send me the information through MyChart. With all that I have having going on, this service gave me ease of mind.”
Ericka next reached out to see if Allison could provide her youngest son, Johnathan, 14, with a sports physical so he could play football and basketball. The deadline was approaching and he did not want to be left out.
Allison was again happy to help. But, as she was looking at Johnathan’s health history prior to the physical, something caught her attention. A newborn health screening indicated he had sickle cell disease.
Ericka had not mentioned this to Allison, so Allison followed up with a call to Ericka.
Ericka had long thought Jonathan had sickle cell trait (characterized by a child have sickle cell gene from one parent rather than both parents). This was a significant, and possibly even life-saving discovery.
Allison consulted with Dr. Daniel Pettee, a hematologist-oncologist with Akron Children’s Shower Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, to order new lab work and confirm the diagnosis. Jonathan is now in the care of the Showers Center. He is beginning medication for sickle cell disease and, with Ericka’s permission, Allison went to personally inform his teachers and coaches of the importance of him staying hydrated throughout the day and gave hydration goals when he engages in intensive sports activity.
Next, Allison offered to give Ericka’s other two children, twins Joshua and Jordan, 16, physicals – all conveniently in the high school’s nursing office during their school day.
“Ericka is an excellent mother, and it’s been my pleasure to assist her family in accessing medical care during this difficult season they are experiencing,” said Allison. “Her joy and love for her children has radiated in every conversation we have had. Through the support of the school administration and partnering with specialists in the Mahoning Valley, our team has had the pleasure of being able to make a difference for Ericka and her family.”
Nearly half of students in the Warren School District have not had a well-child visit in the past year.
The school-based health model can be a safety net for families who have trouble accessing health care in the traditional model.
School nurses can make sure kids are caught up on their immunizations and well-child visits. They can keep kids with minor, non-infectious illnesses like ear infections stay in school and learning. Parents appreciate the convenience of not having to leave work when these minor health issues can be addressed in the nurse’s office or via a telehealth appointment.
They can also help manage children with chronic health needs. Joshua has Type 1 diabetes that has been well managed but it’s always good to have school, family and doctors collaborating closely when children have asthma, allergies, diabetes and other concerns.
“It’s a team effort at Akron Children’s,” said Allison. “We have the links to the specialists like endocrinology and hematology-oncology. We have community health aides who can stop by the home a drop off a gas card or offer some other assistance.”
Whether she gets a call from Allison about one of her kids having a headache, a fever or something more serious, Ericka says Allison has her trust. And she wonders if many parents are aware that Akron Children’s has partnerships with dozens of school districts to provide these services.
“This is a great program that was here to help me and my children at a time when I needed help,” Ericka said.