CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every year, for 12 years, Lincoln County school nurse Pam Dice sat down and telephoned parents of kids who had what she calls "dangerous numbers."
Each year, after West Virginia University's CARDIAC project screens schoolchildren, they send school nurses a list of results. Dice always went through her list, looking for kids with high numbers.
Each year since 1998, CARDIAC has found that one in four West Virginia fifth-graders has very high blood pressure, risky cholesterol and obesity. Those are early warning signs of future diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, Dice knew.
In Lincoln County, last year, 34 percent of children screened had high blood pressure and 28 percent were obese. "They showed us which kids need attention," she said, "so I picked up the ball.
"Nobody told me I had to do it," said Dice, who retired this year. No state agency has ever asked its employees to follow up on the children at risk. "But I knew some kids wouldn't make it to a doctor if I didn't."
Dice called a few parents at a time. She knew CARDIAC had sent them a letter, telling them their child's results, advising them to take their child and the letter to their doctor for advice.
"But people get all kinds of things in the mail, and they don't know the people who sent that letter, and I felt like somebody local needed to call, too.
"I know for a fact that a lot of kids made it to the doctor because of those calls, so it was time well spent," she said.
What did she say? "Nothing complicated," she said. "I just asked if they had questions, then mostly listened. Lots of people just needed to hear that I thought they should pay attention to the letter."
The letter lists a toll-free number parents could call with questions. "But some people hesitate to call someone they don't know."
Sometimes parents hadn't read the letter, she said. "Some couldn't
read it. And there's some who've got other troubles, things on their mind, drugs or mortgages or something else, and maybe they threw it in the trash or laid it down without reading it.
"I'd just tell them what the letter said, and we'd go from there.
"Most wanted to do something, once they understood they could save their child a lot of trouble down the road. People want the best for their kids.
"Nothing takes the place of a conversation," she said. "You can do all that screening, and you can send a letter, and then it can still not work because nobody talked with the parents."
Today's young adults
The first children screened by the CARDIAC program turned 23 years old in 2011.
How are they doing? If they had dangerous numbers, did their parents take them to the doctor?