"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

food allergy tragedy

A 7-year old girl died at her school this week as a result of an allergic reaction to, most likely, peanuts. Her family knew of her severe food allergies (which included peanuts and eggs, among others) and had an Allergy Action Plan in place at her school, which included the administration of medications in the event of an allergic reaction. She knew she was having an allergic reaction and went to the clinic complaining of a rash. At some point during the presentation of her symptoms, 911 was called. By the time she was being transported by ambulance to the hospital, she was in cardiac arrest. She was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.

There are holes in the story as it is being reported to the public. Was the Allergy Action Plan followed? Was an Epi-Pen administered? Did she have an Epi-Pen at school? How is it possible that she could ingest her allergen if she had known food allergies that were severe enough to warrant an Allergy Action Plan at school??

I need to know more about this, not only because I'm about to send my Epi-Pen carrying kiddo off to The Big School next year, but because THIS CHILD SHOULD NOT HAVE DIED.

Food allergies are common (5-10% of school age children have food allergies), food allergy deaths are not. And that's because there are prevention measures that can and must be taken to ensure that children with food allergies do not come into contact with their allergens (only eating food from home being the obvious one) and because there are ways to stop an allergic reaction once it has started (the administration of Benadryl at the first sign of a reaction and giving the Epi-Pen if the reaction progresses or at ANY point in which breathing/respiration is being compromised).

I need more information. Maybe an Epi-Pen was administered, 911 was called, and a second Epi was given (which is standard protocol if the first doesn't "work" within five to ten minutes of the injection). If this is the case, a tragedy occurred: A tiny body was unable to cope with a poison that, by some horrible accident, was ingested.

But what if?? What if an Epi-Pen wasn't given? Why wasn't it? Because someone didn't recognize the signs of an anaphylactic reaction? What if the signs were recognized but the little girl didn't have an Epi-Pen at the school (one report I read states that the mother tried to bring one to school at the beginning of he year but was told by a clinic aid to leave it at home)? What would you have done? You would have taken some other allergic kid's Epi-Pen and you would have administered it to the little girl in distress. You wouldn't have even thought twice about it because this is LIFE and DEATH. This is not the time to think of legal consequences of prescription violation or whatever.

But what if she were the only allergic kid in the school and there WERE NO EPI-PENS at the school? Well, there needs to be. If schools, restaurants, airports, shopping malls, and concert venues can have defibrillators at-the-ready in the event of a cardiac emergency, why aren't there Epi-Pens in every classroom, cafeteria, and school clinic to protect the lives of this growing population of severely food allergic children?

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network is currently working tirelessly to promote legislation to make this a reality, in part because 25% of reactions that happen in school occur in children without a prior history of allergies, but mostly because IT COULD SAVE LIVES.

In addition to putting Epi-Pens in every room, every school district in the country needs to take 20 minutes of their Back To School Week lecture series and devote it to the education of teachers and support staff about the recognition of allergic reactions and action plans to follow once a reaction is underway. Because this IS more important than literacy, math fluency, team-building, and classroom decorating.

Parents of food-allergic children: review the Allergy Action Plan you have written with your child's doctors. Then, go to school. Sit down with the teachers, cafeteria staff, clinic aides, support staff, office personnel, and administration. Go over your child's Action Plan with them and review What to Do, How to Do it, When it Do it, and What signs and symptoms to look for. Review your Food Rules with your child (eat only food from home, only food with ingredient labels on it, etc. depending on your comfort level and your child's ability to verbalize reaction symptoms). Double check expiration dates on any and all medications needed in your Allergy Action Plan and make sure you have a complete set of medications at home and at school.

And then, hug your sweet child a little tighter tomorrow like I did today. Because I Can't Even Imagine what Ammaria's mother is going through tonight.

Lesson Learned:
I need to know the whole story here, because not knowing the details specific to this case make me think that this sort of thing can Just Happen. And it can't. It shouldn't. Yet somehow, it did.

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