While my boys don't have any food allergies that I'm aware of, as a mom, I can understand the fear and anxiety that a parent of a child with food allergies must feel when his or her child is in the care of anyone else. I would imagine going to any public location could be dangerous, especially for those with severe allergies to commonly consumed foods like nuts, eggs and dairy products.
The worry of not knowing if a peanut butter and jelly sandwich had been eaten by the former occupant of a picnic table at the park; if the birthday party your child is attending is serving milk to all the kids; or if all the kids in your child's classroom are aware of the severity of the allergy and the dire consequences if the particular food comes in contact with your child could be all-consuming I would imagine. I would think it would be enough to make a parent obsessed with making sure everyone is aware of these allergies.
A food allergy is not to be taken lightly. A child with a severe food allergy could die very quickly if the allergen has any kind of contact with the child and the child does not have immediate access to epinephrine. This very sad truth has recently been in the news.
Ammaria's Tragic Death
Ammaria Johnson, age 7, died at school on her first day back to school in January after the winter break when a classmate, unaware of her allergy, gave Ammaria a peanut to eat while the girls were out on the playground. Shortly thereafter, after noticing hives and having trouble breathing, Ammaria sought help.
The school clinic didn't have an EpiPen on file for Ammaria. An EpiPen, or an Epinephrine auto-injector, quickly and easily is injected into a person suffering from an anaphylactic emergency, thereby reversing the reaction and saving a life. Instead, Ammaria went into cardiac arrest and died before Epinephrine could be administered to her.
EpiPens are by prescription only. Many kids with allergies keep a prescribed EpiPen with their names on them in the nurse's office at school for such emergencies. However, studies have shown that anaphylactic emergencies at school often occur with no prior knowledge of such an allergy.
However, if a child and/or staff member without a prescribed EpiPen on file with the school nurse's office goes into anaphylactic shock, even if there is an EpiPen available for another child, school personnel cannot administer that life-saving medication due to legal issues. More than likely, there was an EpiPen in the very school clinic where Ammaria died.
This and other such tragedies are too much too bear. When there is a life-saving solution available at one's fingertips, one should have access to it. There should be no "red tape" or threat of lawsuit, criminal prosecution or loss of license stopping anyone from administering this life-giving serum.
School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act
Last November, a bill that would cut through this red tape and give those in need of an EpiPen at school access regardless of whether there was one on file for that particular child was introduced in the U.S. Senate (S. 1884). And in December, this bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (HR. 3627). It has now been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act would allow for schools to maintain a stock of EpiPens and administer such injections, just as they do bandages. The stock of EpiPens would not be prescribed to any particular students, but would instead be at the ready for any child and/or staff who experienced an anaphylactic emergency while at school.
This bill does allow for protection of school personnel from liability in administering such emergency injection. However, it's worth noting that if epinephrine is administered without need, a child would merely experience light-headedness, rapid heart rate and nausea, which would last only 15 minutes or so. Epinephrine is dangerous only to children with congenital heart conditions, which should be noted in school records. On the flip side, a child in need of epinephrine can die without it.
While this act is too late to save Ammaria, it could be instrumental in preventing many other deaths in similar circumstances. Ammaria is certainly not the first child to die at school due to anaphylactic shock, and she won't be the last if this common sense bill doesn't become law.
The saddest part of this story is that Ammaria's death was preventable, but we have become too restrained by the threat of punitive actions if protocol is not followed precisely. When a child's life is in danger, all protocol should go out the window.
If you feel strongly about this bill, please email your U.S. senators and representatives. This is a nonpartisan issue we can all support. Over and out...