Patti Butler

Photo: Courtesy of Patti Butler

3 of 9
Reading the Signs: Patti Butler

The boy arrived for his first full day of kindergarten with gray skin, dark circles under his eyes, and aching legs. The school nurse called his mother, who assumed growing pains and a cold. Nurse Patti wasn't having it: "Those symptoms screamed blood disorder." She convinced his mother to take him to a pediatrician and then a hospital, where he was diagnosed with leukemia. Happy ending: The now 7-year-old is in remission.

Then there was the sixth grader who hit her head at recess. No obvious injuries, but Nurse Patti saw bleeding deep in her ear, a sign of a fractured skull. She called an ambulance but couldn't reach the parents, so she sprinted three blocks to their home. Another full recovery.

Also: the student who started fainting in class. Nurse Patti urged his parents to see their pediatrician, who waved them off. Patti persisted, and a specialist diagnosed the boy with a rare but treatable heart condition.

Nurse Patti is Patti Butler, and for nearly two decades, she's cared for the children of Zane North Elementary School in Collingswood, New Jersey.

Kids today face health issues from autism to obesity; one in four has a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes. Yet because of nationwide budget cuts, less than 40 percent of schools employed a full-time nurse in 2016.

"She goes out of her way for people all the time," says Taylor Catling, the student who fractured her skull. "I remember leaving the hospital and thinking, I want to be like Nurse Patti." And maybe she will: Catling, now 26, was recently accepted to nursing school.

—Leslie Goldman