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Parents Get Health Tips at Free Seminar

November 14, 2000|ALLISON COHEN

Leticia Esparza has never used a thermometer because she doesn't know how to read one.

Instead, the mother of two relies on a touch to the forehead to gauge if her children are feverish.

Twice, she's ended up in the emergency room, uncertain and worried.

Monday, about 100 mothers like Esparza with children in schools throughout the northeast San Fernando Valley attended a free children's health care seminar at Vena Avenue Elementary School in Arleta.

The 2 1/2-hour session--in both English and Spanish--was the brainchild of Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar), who said he understands all too well the plight of these families.

"Most of the time we were just given an aspirin and a prayer," he said of his 10 brothers and sisters who grew up in Pacoima after their parents emigrated from Mexico. "I grew up here just like they are . . . without access to health care."

Cardenas said he was approached a few months ago to help distribute the book "What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick" to families in his 39th Assembly District--home to many of the Valley's uninsured working poor. He agreed, but believed a seminar--in which parents could ask specific questions of a nurse practitioner--would help boost their confidence so they would rely less on emergency-room visits.

"[Those visits] are a drain on public dollars . . . [that] costs taxpayers . . . and costs lives," Cardenas said.

Topics discussed Monday included determining the proper dosage of medicines, the toxic--sometimes fatal--reaction in children that aspirin can cause, and how to tell a common cold from a chronic allergy. Each participant was given a copy of the book to use at home as a reference guide and will later receive a digital thermometer from Cardenas' office.

"I've been afraid before and not known what to do when my children have been sick," said 35-year-old Ramona Lopez, who has three children, ranging in age from 6 to 12.

Lopez said she recently took her 6-year-old son to the emergency room in the middle of the night. "I thought fever was really bad," she said through a translator. "But now I've learned it's not."

With a $7,500 grant from the Arco Foundation, program organizers say enough money remains to fund more seminars at schools throughout the district, which includes Sylmar, Arleta, Panorama City, Mission Hills, San Fernando, Pacoima and parts of North Hollywood, Van Nuys and Sun Valley.

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