I had planned to begin the new year with an uplifting New Year's post about how far my family and daughter have come in dealing with food allergies. I wanted to share some positive stories and tips that we've learned over the years.
And then I read the latest news story about a food allergy death in Virginia. A 7-year-old girl became ill and died from an apparent peanut allergy reaction on her first day back at school. My heart goes out to the family and I am very sorry for their loss.
This tragic story called to mind other recent food allergy deaths, one of which involved a 6-year-old girl at a school in Quebec. I was reminded of a 7th grader in Chicago who died in December 2010 from a peanut allergy reaction. Of course there have been others but these two stick out in my mind because they happened at school and in both cases epinephrine autoinjectors were not available to the students. With food allergy deaths, the lack of epinephrine autoinjectors or their usage is a common theme. It's worth checking on your prescriptions right now and making sure that they are accessible to your child at school and anywhere else for that matter, at all times.
Accidents can happen and no one can prepare for every circumstance, but so much can be done to minimize the risk of these deadly reactions ever occuring in the first place. As much as we are shocked and horrified by these deaths, I hope we will all take the time to review our own food allergy policies and procedures at school (and everywhere else) and make sure that everyone involved is ready, willing and able to carry out emergency plans if needed.
Another hope is that we will be unafraid to teach our kids how to handle food allergy situations. Even very young kids can be taught what to do. Just like fire drills, you can have food allergy drills where you talk about how to avoid food and what to do if your child feels sick at school. This process doesn't have to be scary or terrifying, but it can be empowering. Our ultimate goal is that kids will self-advocate and self-administer medications as they get old enough.
That's just one piece of the puzzle. I urge everyone, especially those of us with young kids, to check in with the school and make sure everything is up to date with regards to medications and emergency procedures. Issue reminders and provide additional information or medications if necessary. I like to check in with the nurse after winter break just to make sure all of my medications are up to date, for example.
For those of us with older kids, ask them to practice using an epinephrine autoinjector and go over basic food allergy rules about safe foods, remembering to carry their medications, whatever you feel they need a review in.
Another thing you can do is support the epinephrine bill for schools. This link will take you to a page where you can find a sample letter of support for this bill and it will help you to find names and addresses of your local senators. It doesn't take long to customize one of these letters and if this bill becomes law, it can save lives of precious children.
It's natural to wonder what went wrong in tragic food allergy deaths so that you can better prepare yourself and your kids for mistakes or allergic reactions. But there is a flipside to this that is also tragic (to me, anyway) -- and that's the notion of living in fear.
Some of us might be tempted to think that school or other activities are simply not safe and that we must either be constantly terrified and/or take our child out of educational settings or activities that are enriching to them. We might become unduly negative towards the idea of our child becoming independent or trying new activities.
While food allergy deaths are horrible, it's good to remember that education can save lives and readily available, quickly administered epinephrine can prevent deaths. Learning to avoid allergic reactions is also key -- such as avoiding unsafe or high-risk foods and learning to manage different environments. I hope we can focus on being prepared and not just being scared.
An article in USA Today reflected some of these views with quotes from prominent allergy doctors. I was happy to see this article because it reiterates how important and effective it is to be prepared and to expect mistakes. If you expect them, you can be ready to deal with them.
I've had many questions about dealing with food allergies at school, so here are some links that you might find helpful.
FAAN Resources for School Professionals
Back to school tips from my blog with many helpful links to articles and resources
FAAN Blog--Our Family's School Success Story
Thanks to everyone who has shown support for the families who lose their children to food allergies. Our thoughts are with them today.