They say “doctors diagnose, but nurses save lives.” That statement couldn’t be more true for a school nurse in New Jersey, who took one look at a kindergartener’s skin and knew that something was wrong.
Nathan Campbell had just kicked off the school year when his teacher, Kathy Keller, noticed that the 6-year-old wasn’t acting like his usual self. He was extremely tired, and complained about his legs hurting. When she noticed how pale his skin was, the kindergarten teacher sent Nathan to the nurse’s office. She says she just had a gut feeling that he needed help:
“It was just something different about him. And I had worked with his sister. I had known his brother. Something was off.”
The school nurse at Zane North Elementary is Patti Butler. “Nurse Patti” examined Nathan and was shocked by what she discovered. “Pale,” was an understatement for what she saw in his skin:
“I went behind him so the light was coming through and his skin was translucent.”
Patti says she’s only seen someone with skin similar to Nathan’s once in her whole 25 years of being a nurse, and it had her panicked. She called Nathan’s mother Nicole and relayed her concerns, begging the mother to get her son checked out.
Nicole admittedly thought Patti was overreacting, and brushed off Nathan’s pale skin as a symptom of the common cold.
Patti, who also works in the neonatal ICU at a local New Jersey hospital, knew she couldn’t give up. She continued to press Nicole, pleading with her to have Nathan’s blood tested.
“Please take him. Prove me wrong! That’s all I want—prove me wrong!”
After several days, Nicole finally set up a doctor’s appointment.
“Honestly, I wrote it off. I really thought she was being kind of an alarmist because I didn’t see anything wrong with him. Then that night the doctor himself called and said we got the results of the blood tests and you need to go right to [Children’s Hospital].”
Nathan was diagnosed with leukemia that night.
He immediately began treatment, and has been fighting like a champ through months of chemotherapy and radiation. Today, the 6-year-old is in remission, but Nicole says that Nurse Patti truly saved her son’s life.
“If it weren’t for Patti pushing as hard as she did, I don’t know that my son would be here. That’s the honest-to-God truth.”
Nicole can’t even begin to describe her gratitude for Patti and her persistence, but as a start, she nominated the school nurse for the America’s Greatest School Nurse award, which will be awarded on May 5.
Nathan hasn’t been able to return to school this year because his immune system is compromised, but he’s got a special place in Ms. Kathy’s class, and Nurse Patti’s heart.
She says that knowing she helped save Nathan’s life has her feeling “humbled, thankful, grateful for being that person at that time.”