Monday, March 18, 2013

Peanut-Allergic Teen Dies in Massachusetts

by Kelley Lindberg

A couple of times a year, I seem to find myself reporting on another teenager who died after eating a food they were allergic to. Unfortunately, it has happened again: “Allergic Teen Dies After Eating Cookie.”

Cameron Groezinger-Fitzpatrick was a 19-year-old college student, who had come home to Massachusetts for spring break. He’d only been home for 2 hours.

According to the news report, he and his friend went out driving and bought some cookies. The friend tried a cookie, said he didn’t taste any peanuts, and then young Cameron ate one, saying “Ah, the hell with it, I’m sure it’s fine,” according to the friend. He didn’t have his EpiPens with him.

There are the first 3 problems: 1) Cameron was out of the house without his EpiPens. 2) The cookie didn’t have a label, but Cameron risked it anyway. And 3) his friend tried to predict the ingredients by tasting the cookie. (You can’t always taste allergens in a food product. The taste test is NEVER a reliable test, and should never, ever be used to determine the safety of a food. If a food doesn’t have an ingredients label, avoid it. Period.)

Then even more problems occurred: 4) The friend apparently drove Cameron home, instead of to the ER. 5) Cameron hadn’t unpacked his suitcases yet, so his mother couldn’t find his EpiPen. 6) She had one in her cabinet, but it had expired 2 months earlier, so first responders told her not to use it. (Seriously?) A neighbor brought one over and used it, but by then it was too late.

The mother was later told by a doctor that she could have used the expired one, but no one knows if it would have made a difference at that point.

In any crisis, problems and mistakes can stack up in a heartbeat. In this case, all of those problems and mistakes created an unthinkable disaster for this family.

As my friend Suzanne said when she told me about this story, “I don't know what is scarier, the fact that the teen willingly ate something that he had no label for or the mom being quoted to say, ‘I didn't know you could die from nut allergies.’”

So if we can learn anything from this awful experience, it’s that we need to remind our kids (and ourselves) that food-allergic people simply cannot let our guards down, even for a minute. We must stay vigilant, keep our medications with us, read ingredients labels each and every time, and never rely on blind luck. It isn’t really all that difficult to do. But convincing teens to do it seems to be a challenge sometimes.

Once again, I feel compelled to remind us all that most food-allergy deaths occur to teen boys who don’t have their epinephrine auto-injectors with them. Now that my son is a teenager and running with a very social group of friends, I worry more about making sure he has his epinephrine with him. I also remind him about food every time he leaves the house. I know he’s probably tired of hearing me nag him, but I know he needs constant reminders even if they are annoying. Much as we love ‘em, teen boys just aren’t universally known for their common sense and perfect memories.

So I remind him, and make sure he has his meds, and show him articles like this one that really hit home. My heart goes out to Cameron’s family and friends. And I hope that his experience will help reinforce our own children’s commitment to staying safe.


*Lauren* said...

awful. That is my worst fear. My little girl is going into kindergarten this August and I've never left her anywhere where family is not around. She knows to question food but then she's trusting when someone says it's ok. Just going to have to tell her "don't eat anything mommy doesn't give you". Basically going have to live that way. So sad.

Anonymous said...

I think an expired EPI is better then no EPI. It is important to role play certain situations out. Nothing is worse in an emergency situation then not having any idea what to do.