WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING: School Nurse in Cheyenne Wins National Award

Andrea Escobedo uses personal experience to keep her family, Freedom Elementary students healthy

Pictured above are Andrea Escobedo and her son Braylon, 12, in Cheyenne. (Courtesy photo from Andrea Escobedo)

By Carrie Haderlie

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Heart health matters to Andrea Escobedo, not only because her own family members are battling a congenital heart defect, but also because she cares for the children of Cheyenne’s Freedom Elementary.

“I want to start young, teaching children ways to stay healthy,” Escobedo said. “I want kids to know it’s not that hard to be healthy, and probably [includes] things they do anyway.”

Escobedo, a nurse at Freedom Elementary School located on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, has been named the 2023 Specialist/Nurse of the Year for the American Heart Association’s in-school programs, including the Kids Heart Challenge™ and American Heart Challenge.™

“Andrea is committed to her students and has a passion for making sure they know the importance of eating right, staying active and treating others with kindness and respect,” said Sam Gardner, state director for the American Heart Association in Wyoming.

The Specialist or Nurse of the Year Award is a national honor that recognizes a single person who has been instrumental in growing American Heart Association programs in a school or district. Escobedo was announced the winner during the Association’s Kids Heart Challenge™ and American Heart Challenge™ awards ceremony held virtually on Sept. 12.

“This was not just a simple nomination or award. She was competing against the entire country,” Freedom Elementary Principal Chad Delbridge said.

A personal journey

For Escobedo, heart health is personal.

Both Escobedo’s son Braylon, and husband John Escobedo, have a congenital heart defect called a Bicuspid Aortic Valve, which affects how well blood can flow out of their hearts into their aorta. John has had open-heart surgery, and Braylon might need surgery, too.

“[Heart health] means a lot to me. It’s so important to me, because my husband didn’t know a lot about his condition until he was in the Navy,” Escobedo said. “If he had had earlier interventions, it may not have been so terrible.”

Escobedo, 39, has lived in Cheyenne for most of her life. She has been the school nurse at Freedom for over three years. Before joining the school, Escobedo spent four years working in the emergency department at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and six years on the medical unit. She earned an associate degree from Laramie County Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Western Governors University.

Andrea Escobedo, nurse at Freedom Elementary School, was named the Specialist/Nurse of the Year recipient for the American Heart Association’s in-school programs, Kids Heart Challenge™ and American Heart Challenge™. (Courtesy photo from American Heart Association) 

In her time as a nurse, Escobedo has learned to pay attention to the little things — something she teaches to her students at Freedom Elementary and her son.

“Little signs that possibly something that could be going on with your heart are so important to know, so that you can take care of your heart throughout your life,” she said.

When it comes to heart health, small signs not to ignore include dizziness or an irregular heartbeat. “If you feel like your heart is pounding out of your chest or beating really fast, those are signs” to seek treatment, Escobedo said.

When Braylon was born, the Escobdeos knew their son may have similar issues to his father’s. He had his first EKG when he experienced chest pains at age seven, and at age nine, he received the Bicuspid Aortic Valve diagnosis. After being asked to lead the Kids Heart Challenge™ at Freedom Elementary School in 2022-23, Escobedo immediately updated the school’s page to tell Braylon’s story.

Braylon has been named a local Youth Heart Ambassador by the American Heart Association. As one of two ambassadors in Wyoming, Braylon shares his story by video on the organization’s platform.

Escobdeo’s journey toward becoming a nurse is also a personal one: She was inspired to become an RN when her life was saved by another RN, Cathy Teasley, when she was in a car accident at age 14. 

“The dash exploded,” Escobedo said. “A piece of the plastic hit my right cheek, causing a huge laceration. Luckily, it happened next to our family friend’s home, and [Cathy] jumped into action to help control the bleeding while also helping the other two girls [who were in the accident]. Cathy was my angel that night, and after that, I knew I was meant to be a nurse and help others as she did me.”

Education through connection

At Freedom Elementary, the whole school focuses on promoting healthy lifestyle choices, Delbridge, the principal, said. During the Kids Heart Challenge™, an annual fundraiser for the American Heart Association in which schools across Wyoming participate, educators in both the classroom and school gym discuss heart health, exercise and well-being. Through a grant program, the organization offers participating schools the chance to apply for funds raised for playground and physical education equipment.

Throughout the school year, Escobedo teaches students about healthy habits, from handwashing to dental hygiene, during her regular visits to the classrooms.

“It wasn’t just about her son and her family. All kids are a priority in this building, and she’s always looking to promote health in some way,” Delbridge said.

With parents in the military who often move from place to place, children at Freedom experience transition. “Sometimes, the nurse visits are more about making a connection, another opportunity for an adult in our building to encourage them and give them some tender care,” Delbridge said. “Sometimes the nurse visit is, ‘I’m feeling sick,’ but what they really need is someone to say they are OK. And Andrea does that.”

Health, Escobedo said, encompasses much more than one thing. For children at home and in school, symptoms may not always have a direct cause. From child to child, finding the cause of any issue likely needs careful, individualized attention.

“Symptoms are definitely subjective to a child,” she said. “A lot of things like headaches and stomach aches can be anxiety.”

Watching how a child presents symptoms — and when — and examining what they are doing in class or at home can help determine the root issue, Escobedo said. And when it comes to overall health, she wants to teach children the “why” behind healthy habits.

“I want students to know the importance of water, and why your muscles need it, why your heart needs it and why your brain needs it,” Escobedo said. “For me, being a school nurse is making sure kids feel safe and healthy, but that they also feel safe and comfortable coming to see me.”

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