Monday, January 9, 2012

Virginia First Grader Dies from Peanut Reaction

by Kelley Lindberg

That’s the headline none of us ever want to read. But it happened on January 2 to a 7-year-old girl named Amarria Johnson, when a friend who didn’t know about Amarria’s allergies shared a peanut with her on the playground during recess. Amarria was taken to the clinical aid in school with hives and shortness of breath. By the time EMTs arrived, she was in cardiac arrest and pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital.

Amarria had an action plan at school, authorizing the school to give Benedryl to her, but they didn’t do that. The school’s policy states that the parent is responsible for giving the child’s medications to the school, but reports don’t indicate whether the mother actually did give Benadryl to the school, and I can’t find any information about whether there was Benadryl in the clinic at all.

What’s even more concerning, though, is the mother is quoted as saying that at the beginning of the school year, she tried to give the school’s clinical aid an EpiPen for emergencies, but she said she was declined and told to keep it at home.

It’s devastating news. Our hearts, thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to the family, to her friends, and to everyone else who was touched by this little girl’s life. Food allergy support groups across the country, including UFAN, have been sending the family our condolences and loving thoughts.

But sending our heartfelt prayers isn’t the only thing we can do. At Amarria’s funeral service on Saturday, the Rev. Louis Kelly said, “If you want to honor Amarria, don't grieve for the rest of your life. Do something about it. Let's honor her memory by making sure that what happened to her never happens to another child.”

What a wonderful idea.

Here are some ways we can all make a difference in our own children’s lives and in the lives of other allergic children in our schools. Hopefully Amarria’s story can make a difference.
  1. Make sure you have filled out a medical action plan and given it to your school. Here are links to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network’s (FAAN) allergy action plan in English and allergy action plan in Spanish. If you don’t have one filed with your school, DO IT TODAY. And print 2 extra copies: one to hang in your child’s classroom, and one to hang in the cafeteria.
  2. Make sure you have EpiPens and an antihistamine (such as Benadryl) in your child’s school or on their person, labeled with their name, a photo if possible, and simple instructions for use. If you’ve already got the meds in the school, check their expiration date, and replace them if they’ve expired.
  3. If you haven’t sat down with your child’s teacher to explain his or her food allergies, make an appointment right now. I’ve never had a teacher say no to such a meeting – most are very relieved to know exactly what they should be aware of. Show them how to recognize a reaction, how to administer the medication, and when to call 911.
  4. Call your school’s principal and ask how their staff is trained for food allergies and EpiPen use every year. If they aren’t trained, ask them to please bring in someone to train them during a staff meeting. Your allergist or a school nurse might be willing to do a short training session. If you are in Utah, contact me (kjplindberg @ or someone else in UFAN (, and we can help hook you up with someone who can do the training quickly and easily and for free.
  5. Make sure your child has at least one pair of EpiPens with them at all times. Some schools require medicine to be kept in the office. That’s okay, but by law in Utah (see H.B. 101, available on UFAN’s website), students are allowed to carry EpiPens and inhalers on their person. So my son has one set of EpiPens in the office, and another set in his lunchbox. If your school says the child can't carry their own EpiPen, show them H.B. 101 -- it's been legal since April 2008.
  6. Especially for younger kids (kindergarten and elementary grades), offer to do a short presentation to your child’s class. FAAN has some great videos that teach young kids about food allergies, designed to make students aware of their allergic classmates’ needs. Here is a link to a short but effective slide-show presentation created by FAAN, called Food Allergies for Elementary Students. I’ve found that if you enlist kids’ support, they are usually far more receptive, much more interested, and much more concerned about keeping their friends safe than adults are, so kids can be your child’s best allies. Keeping your child’s food allergy a secret doesn’t help, and can definitely harm. I can’t even imagine how terrible the child who gave Amarria a peanut feels now. If she’d known about the allergy, she probably wouldn’t have put her friend in danger. The FAAN website has a whole section of FAAN downloads with presentations for adults and older kids, and other resources.
  7. 7. Even if your child doesn’t eat school lunches, take your child to meet with the lunchroom workers. Introduce your child to them and tell your child that these adults are the people they should tell if they think they’ve eaten something they’re allergic to, or if some other kid is threatening them with food. Make sure the lunch staff knows your child and show them how to recognize a reaction and how to use an EpiPen and call 911.
A story about Amarria’s experience was on the Huffington Post website, along with a poll asking: “Should schools stock EpiPens just in case?” Here are the poll’s results as of this morning:
  • 91.83%  Yes
  • 8.17%    No
Unfortunately, with school budgets so limited, I doubt many districts will ever be able to squeeze out enough to foot the bill for new EpiPens every year. But that’s still encouraging to know so many people think it’s a good idea. Overwhelmingly, most people want to protect children. That’s a no brainer. But they can only protect them if they understand what they’re protecting them from, and how to do it. That’s where we come in. Call your school now and make sure they know what to do in an allergic emergency. You may be saving your own child’s life, or the life of a child you’ve never met.

Do it for Amarria.

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