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New ISD 192 partnership with area doctor can help parents identify whether their children have sleep disorders

A new partnership between the Farmington School District and FamilyHealth Medical Clinic may just help some kids do better in school.

The program promotes sleep screenings for kids who may be at risk for sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.

Under the direction of Dr. Gerard O'Halloran, the program will launch before the beginning of the school year in September. When parents bring their children to pre-school screenings, not only will students be screened for the usual things like hearing and sight, but parents can pick up a questionnaire to help them identify whether their child has a sleep disorder.

An ear, nose and throat doctor, O'Halloran regularly treats adults with sleep disorders. Over time, he said, a number of studies have emerged that link student behavior issues and a student's ability to learn to sleep. One of the most documented topics, he said, is related to sleep apnea.

Left untreated, sleep apnea can result in behavior problems, symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, growth impairment, heart and neurocognitive deficits, among other problems.

O'Halloran talked about some of those problems during a recent meeting with the school nurses in ISD 192. District nurse Gail Setterstrom found the topic intriguing, so she asked if there was a way the school district could follow up on the notion.

"I thought it was a good community service," Setterstrom said. "We looked at what we had in place and how we could implement a screening."

The screening will not be an all-out overnight sleep study, O'Halloran said. There are only a couple of sleep study facilities around for adults, and none in the area designed to monitor children. Instead, O'Halloran drew up a questionnaire for parents to answer.

Parents usually know when their children do not get enough sleep because the child is cranky and irritable. O'Halloran's questionnaire asks parents to take a look at the frequency of those symptoms, then look at what is happening while the child is asleep. If the child is experiencing symptoms like restless legs, stunted breathing, or tossing and turning in their sleep, parents may want to consult their family physician about the possibility of being treated for sleep apnea.

"We're not really doing this for data collection," O'Halloran said. "Those papers have pretty much been done. This is more to identify kids who have the problems and get them fixed."

Setterstrom is excited to offer the screenings because nurses in the district were able to identify, based on O'Halloran's descriptions of symptoms, students in their own schools who may have sleep disorders.

"We're just excited to offer this service. We want our students to be successful in school. If this is one thing that can be identified and be fixed, it would just stand to reason that we would offer this service," Setterstrom said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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