A bill that’s envisioned as a no-cost model for eventually prepping teachers nationwide to help students survive epileptic shock appears destined to sail through a House committee in Austin, after an East Texas teacher and other stakeholders testified in Austin on Wednesday.
“You could tell from their body language that they were excited,” retired East Texas teacher Shari Dudo said after testifying in support of House Bill 684 before the House Public Education Committee. “I was very pleased with the committee’s response to it. They were very courteous. Everything they said was positive.”
Perhaps even more revealing, Dudo said members of the panel didn’t have any questions for her after she described her personal story for backing HB 684, also known as Sam’s Law.
Sam’s Law, written by state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogcdoches, would enlist the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas, which has volunteered to teach nurses, teachers and other personnel who interact daily with students what to do — and what never to do — when someone goes into epileptic seizure.
Dudo, who had to retire when she developed epilepsy, said 49,050 children in Texas have the disorder. Meanwhile, potentially harmful and even fatal myths abound regarding the right thing to do when someone goes into shock.
“I learned during some types of seizures, if you do the wrong thing such as holding a child down or putting something in their mouths, you can actually cause harm or even death,” Dudo told members of the committee during afternoon testimony. “I also learned some seizures are subtle, hardly noticeable at all. And the person having them may appear to be staring off into space, daydreaming and not paying attention.”
That’s something teachers see often enough, but they are not now trained to realize a child might not be daydreaming. He or she might be in a seizure and need help.
Samantha Watkins, the namesake for Clardy’s bill, exhibited similar evidence of seizures in the weeks leading to her death at home in December 2016. The Kilgore High School honors student and standout soccer player simply seemed to those around her to be behaving out of character.
Clardy’s bill and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 1044, by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is designed to help educators recognize those symptoms. It also provides knowledge people need to help others when seizures occur.
The effectiveness of the bill was revealed in February, when a staff member for state Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, called the day after Dudo lobbied in Miller’s office to say he’d used her tips to help a pregnant woman survive a seizure in the Capitol cafeteria.
Clardy said after the committee meeting Wednesday that he was encouraged by the House members’ response. The measure was left pending in the committee, which is a standard outcome, but the representative for Rusk, Cherokee and Nacogdoches counties said he was optimistic Sam’s Law is destined to reach the House Floor and eventual passage.
The fact that Sam’s Law costs no tax dollars is a big reason for that.
“I feel very confident they are going to let the bill go forward,” Clardy said. “We had a great day. We had very, very strong testimony from a variety of citizens and interested parties who came from all over Texas to Austin.”
In addition to Dudo, witnesses included Epilepsy Foundation of Texas CEO Sindi Rosales, epileptologists Dr. Scott Perry of Cook Children’s Medical Center and Dr. Gina Jetter of Northeast Texas Neurology Associates and Dumas ISD high school teacher Gabrielle Crunelle.
“Sam’s Law is an efficient and cost-effective way to educate our teachers and schools on this most critical need that 49,050 of our children have,” Dudo testified.
Clardy previously said he was inspired to write Sam’s Law by Dudo, who as a Gregg County resident is not one of his constituents. But Watkins was, as a student of Kilgore ISD which is partly in his Rusk County.
“It means a lot to me that this is a bill that came out of our district,” Clardy said. “It came out of Kilgore.”