Monday, September 12, 2011

Two Food Allergy Deaths in Atlanta

by Kelley Lindberg

Last month, in two separate incidents, two different teenage boys in Atlanta died from apparent allergic reactions to food.

This is the type of news parents everywhere dread.

The first boy was a 15-year-old who was shopping with his aunt. While she shopped, he went out to her car to grab a chocolate chip cookie. He didn’t realize there were traces of peanuts in the cookie. After eating the cookie and realizing what it contained, he ran to a nearby McDonalds to rinse out his mouth, then took an over-the-counter medicine. Neither did enough to stop the reaction. By the time he was transported to a medical center, then flown to a hospital, it was too late. He didn’t carry an EpiPen even though he knew about his allergy, because he thought he was cautious enough. (“Teen Dies After Eating Cookie Containing Peanut”)

The second boy was a college student at Kennesaw State University, who apparently had a reaction to something he ate at the school’s Commons Student Culinary Center. He ate a meal there, then left. Then he returned to the Commons “in distress” and called 911. By the time he got to the hospital, he was dead. According to people who knew him, he was aware of his allergies and had used EpiPens “often.” But no one knows why he didn’t have one with him at the cafeteria that day. (“KSU Student Dies After Apparent Allergic Reaction”)

My heart bleeds for those parents, families, and friends. I can’t imagine anything worse.

Members of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) maintain a registry of fatalities from food allergy reactions so that they can try to identify patterns in these deaths, such as the type of food, where it was consumed, and the age and gender of the affected individual. The registry isn’t a systematic or complete record of all fatal food-induced allergic reactions in this country, but it helps show where more education is needed to help prevent these fatalities.

One of the patterns they’ve noted multiple times is that the largest percentage of fatalities is usually teenage boys who were allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, who consumed food away from home and didn’t have their epinephrine with them at the time.

Neither of the boys in Atlanta had an EpiPen.

As my own son enters his teenage years, I worry about him more and more. He’s forgetful. He’s image conscious. He’s always in a hurry. He doesn’t want to be bothered by having to carry things, keep up with things, or wear something bulky on his belt.

He’s a typical teenage boy.

That’s bad enough, by itself. But when a teenage boy has a severe health issue that he has to maintain, whether it’s food allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, or any other disease, it gets that much worse.

The only thing I can do is keep educating him, keep reminding him of the severe consequences of not taking his EpiPen with him everywhere he goes, show him stories like these, and engage him in finding his own solutions to the problem of how to carry those EpiPens, how to ask about ingredients, how to say no. I have to do everything I can to prepare him and educate him, and then trust him to make the right decisions even if I’m not there.

But I still hug him tighter every day.

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