Anaphylaxis at School – Tragedy and Hope

Just after Christmas I heard that a Chicago teenager had died of anaphylaxis on the last day of school before the Christmas break when she had Chinese food with her classmates. These stories always make me cry because while I cannot understand what it is like to lose a child, I can tell you that I have imagined it more than once. My heart goes out to the family of this child.

From all accounts, this was a child whose parents had well-equipped her for living with her food allergies. School staff had checked on the safety of the food to be served more than once and school officials and classmates were well aware of the peanut allergy. The details have not been released so the public may never know what exactly happened. There is some question of whether epinephrine was injected. The stories indicate that it is against Illinois law for staff to administer epinephrine unless the prescription is specific to the student. If you’d like to know more, you can read the Chicago Tribune article and the Allergic Living article.

I have many questions after reading the accounts; not in the interest of assigning blame but to understand and learn about what I can do with my own child and her school. The accounts indicate that in Illinois students are not allowed to have epipens with them and teachers can’t give another’s epi-pen to a child having a reaction. To me this is highly disturbing. Is this an indication that the fear of liability trumps medically necessary action?

So now you’re wondering, okay Alana, you title says Tragedy and Hope; where’s the Hope part? While we can never bring back these children, we can use these tragedies to better protect all anaphylactic children. After a similar death in an Ontario school, we got Sabrina’s Law. Sabrina’s Law helped provide the background for my province’s anaphylaxis policy and gave allergy advocates around the world a springboard for their own country’s anaphylaxis laws and policies. I have Sara Shannon to thank for making sure that the lessons learned from her daughter Sabrina’s death would not be forgotten. My child has benefited from that advocacy.

To that end, more hope was created yesterday in the US when President Obama signed into law FAAMA. This stands for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act, a national law for all states to protect anaphylactic children in schools. Voluntary guidelines and materials will be created for states to access. You can read the information about what this law means and how it came about on the FAAN website.

I look to these developments with hope to educate all about the very real risks of anaphylaxis and to prevent any more needless deaths.