Monday, April 29, 2013

“Never Let Your Guard Down”

by Kelley Lindberg

If I could have one wish granted for this blog, it would be that I’d never have to write about another child dying because of a food allergy reaction.

But that wish hasn’t come true yet.

Last week, 11-year-old Tanner Henstra in St. George, Utah, died after accidentally popping a peanut-butter-filled pretzel into his mouth at a friend’s house. Although he immediately realized his mistake and spit it out, it was too late.

The family had been vigilant about his food allergy his whole life. The boy was educated about his allergy and ordinarily very careful. The mother is a nurse. The boy usually carried epinephrine, but for some reason didn’t have it that day.

It was just one of those momentary accidents that could happen to any of us. Within minutes, his throat and tongue had swelled, cutting off his airway, and by the time medical assistance arrived, it was too late.

The Salt Lake Tribune has an article with more information about the tragedy (“Utah Boy’s Death Highlights Food Allergy Vigilance,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 26, 2013). The article includes a quote from Michelle Fogg, president of the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN), who explains why teenagers make up the majority of all food-allergy fatalities: “Teenagers are bigger risk-takers and less vigilant. They get busy, it’s not cool to carry [epinephrine] around. They just get caught without it.”

A single moment of inattention, combined with a forgotten EpiPen, spelled disaster for this family. If you have a child who is getting to the age where he or she is becoming shy about carrying their epinephrine, or rebellious about avoiding the food their friends are eating, or just flat-out sick of being deprived of “normal” treats, you may want to have them read the article about Tanner Henstra, so they can see just how quickly a single accident can turn deadly. If you’re not sure whether you should talk to your younger child about this, Michelle Fogg suggests this helpful website for “Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event” on the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

The boy’s heartbroken mother has one message for food allergic kids and their families: “Never let your guard down.”

A Tanner Henstra Memorial Fund has been set up to help the family with funeral and medical expenses, if you'd like to offer your support. UFAN has generously donated to the fund, so more thanks go to Michelle and all the folks at UFAN for being a strong supporter of our food allergy community. And we all send our heartfelt thoughts to the Henstra family.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in St. George and have a severely allergic 6 year. So hard sometimes to walk the line of a normal life and living with allergies. One little mistake and such huge consequences. My heart goes out to the family. Let pray the cure comes quickly and for no more deaths.

Daniella Knell said...

Thanks for this well written and thoughtful article. These kids live daily with their allergies.. it's so sad that on one day where the epi was forgotten, that a life-threatening allergen was present. What are the chances~ Prayers to their family and friends.

Holly Klien said...

Thanks again for sharing this article, its been a really great helpful read! I've never had the chance to deal much with allergist Plainfield, IL. I'm going to go talk to them and get some advice, I hope it all goes well. Thanks again for sharing!

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with this family. We all hope there will be a reliable cure for food allergies soon.