Obituary: School nurse Elva Reichenberger, 75, cared for needy children

08/27/2014 5:20 PM

08/27/2014 5:21 PM

Elva Reichenberger, a school nurse who was instrumental in screening thousands of disadvantaged children for medical conditions, died Aug. 23 of pancreatic cancer, her family said. She was 75.

A registered nurse for almost half a century, Mrs. Reichenberger cared for newborns at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Sacramento before joining the Sacramento City Unified School District for 32 years as a nurse and nurse practitioner. She retired at 68 but continued working as needed for two years in Sacramento and the Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

“My mother just loved children,” her son Patrick said. “I can’t explain it, but she couldn’t see a kid without hugging him or her.”

Mrs. Reichenberger, who worked at Oak Ridge and Ethel Phillips elementary schools in Sacramento, went beyond applying bandages for playground scrapes to deliver health care to many needy people and even save lives.

Her son said she was a leader in starting the Child Health Disability Program, a joint effort by schools and Sacramento County health officials to reach students in low-income families. Along with other nurses and technical staff, she traveled by van to campuses and tested children for scoliosis, heart defects, skin problems, vision and hearing loss, and other conditions.

In one case, she diagnosed a heart condition in a young boy that prevented his brain from receiving sufficient oxygen and persuaded skeptical parents to take him to a doctor – who confirmed the condition and scheduled surgery the following day. Another time, she discovered appendicitis early in a student, who received emergency care.

Beyond providing health care, Mrs. Reichenberger had a genuine concern for children’s well-being. She followed up visits in the school clinic with notes and phone calls to homes. As a native Spanish speaker, she reached out to immigrant families.

“Sometimes kids would (say they were sick) just so they could go see the nurse, because she would give them attention and ask questions about how things were going in school and at home,” her son said. “Sometimes, they just wanted someone to pay attention to them and listen.”

Born in 1939 to a farmer and a clothing store worker in Solomon, Ariz., Elva Echandia spoke Spanish at home until she started school. She graduated from St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Phoenix and later earned a master’s degree from Southern Oregon State College.

She married Marc Reichenberger and settled in Sacramento in 1963. She previously worked for doctors in Arizona and Sacramento and spent eight years in the nursery at Kaiser Permanente.

Mrs. Reichenberger, who was divorced, enjoyed remodeling her Folsom home. Despite being ill with cancer, she pushed workers to complete a bathroom project.

“She used to drive contractors nuts,” her son said. “If she got an idea about something, she was relentless.”

In addition to her son Patrick, Mrs. Reichenberger is survived by a daughter, Lisa Messer; a brother, Ron Echandia; a sister, Sylvia Bartfalvi; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at Divine Savior Catholic Church, 9097 Greenback Lane, Orangevale. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, (877) 272-6226; or to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church Restricted Fund, P.O. Box 147, Solomon, AZ 85551.

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