Ammaria Johnson, an elementary school student in Chesterfield County, VA died Monday at school after suffering a fatal allergic reaction at school. She was only seven years old. Ammaria’s death shook the food allergy community to its core. How could this have happened? What precautions were taken at her school? What emergency directives were followed, or not followed? Read the latest story here. However, not enough information is available yet about what exactly happened. What we do know is that this little girl, who had a peanut allergy, ingested a peanut product and suffered a severe allergic reaction. There isn’t enough information about exactly what happened after that, but allegedly the school didn’t give medication to counter the attack, the school apparently called the mother first instead of 911, the school allegedly denied the mother’s request to keep Ammaria’s EpiPen at school in the event of an emergency, and after what seemed to be a series of missteps, the girl died shortly after at CJW Medical Center. I’ll say it again, there isn’t enough information available about this tragedy, but one thing we know for sure is, Ammaria’s death, like most food allergy deaths, was preventable.
The journalist in me won’t make assumptions until all the facts are out. But I will say that if the school did, in fact decline the mother’s request to keep an EpiPen at school for emergencies, they will be held responsible for negligence and not having an appropriate policy in place for children with severe food allergies. I read the fine print of their “policy” but if a clinical aid refuses the only medication that could save a food allergic child’s life, than all the rest of their policy is crap and BS. The right meds for these kids need to be in the right places at all times. No exceptions.
Which brings me to my son’s school and where they keep EpiPens, medications for children with food allergies. We are fortunate to have a school nurse. She has a big cabinet filled with resealable plastic bags of medications for children with food allergies. The nurse is located down the hallway from the cafeteria. In the event of an emergency in the lunchroom, it would seem there would be enough time to get a child down to the nurse, go through the packs of medications to find his/her specific bag of medication, administer one EpiPen for 10 seconds, maybe two if the first one doesn’t work, call 911 and pray the child responds to the corrective action.
However, I never felt comfortable with this process, because it is assuming everything will go exactly as planned, and that the child’s allergy will be recognized quickly enough to escort the child down to the nurse. I’ve always requested that a second EpiPen package be stored in cafeteria with the lunch monitors who handle the payment/check in. That person is trained on the EpiPen, and the monitors know what to look for in the event of a reaction. This emergency protocol is labeled in John’s 504 Plan. Today, as I was picking up John for his allergist appointment, I asked the office to double check to make sure John’s EpiPens were still stored in the lunchroom. The office confirmed that it was, and out of curiosity I asked if there were any other medicine kits stored in the lunchroom. The nice lady smiled, and responded…”No. Just John’s.”
The proposed School Access to Emergency Act “would enable schools to maintain a supply of epinephrine and enable staff to administer an Epipen to a student having an anaphylactic reaction.” Please read this article for more information about why it is important for you to contact your local congressman or woman for support. In my opinion, every LUNCHROOM should be equipped with EpiPens in the event of a food allergy emergency. There are a number of factors that could affect the child getting the right rescue medication at the right time. We encourage our children to always have their medicine kits on them 24/7, so why wouldn’t we have them available in the lunchrooms, where there is the most risk to these kids? Something to consider when drafting your child’s 504 Plan.
After seven hive reactions in two weeks, I took John to his allergist today to determine why. No new allergies were detected. John’s allergist said recurrent break out of hives is actually common in kids with food allergies when they are exposed to certain viral infections. As long as there isn’t any other respiratory or oral symptoms, it should be fine to treat John with daily antihistamines until the virus has worked itself out. It was interesting to note that John’s skin test and blood result for peanuts is still greater than 100 (KU/L), class 6 (highest class possible), combine that with John’s asthma and, according to John’s doctor an anaphylactic reaction could occur within 1-3 minutes. 1-3 minutes….is all it would take for my son to die if he didn’t have his EpiPens on him. Another variable is possibly how much peanut product would be ingested….the more ingested, the faster the reaction. As we all know, peanut traces could be in breads, cookies, snacks, etc. THIS is the reality parents of children with food allergies have to live with every day when we send our kids out the door. I used to think when John was in preschool that it would get easier when he got older. But I am finding that it is much, much harder. At the end of the day, John desperately wants to be a normal kid, who hangs out, plays sports and goes to 7- 11 with his friends to buy Gatorade. I get it, and I’m letting go as much as possible. But after hearing of another food allergy death…it just makes it all so hard to deal with.
Children are a great gift to us all. As parents we love them more than our own lives, and would gladly give ours to save theirs. We’re fiercely protective of them, and that will never go away. Keep fighting the fight, there’s much more work to be done in awareness, advocacy and prevention. Don’t take no for answer, ever, and believe that your child’s rights at school are just as important as any other child. Believe that homeschooling doesn’t need to be the answer, that your child can adjust happily and even thrive in any environment. And most importantly, believe in the power of YOUR voice, and empower your child to feel the same.
In the meantime, my prayers will always be with Ammaria’s family and loved ones, and hope that we can all help to prevent another child’s death from food. Here’s a great list from FAAN about the Anaphylaxis Do’s and Don’ts. Please read and share.