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Going Gluten-FreeJanuary 11, 2012

Young Life Lost Needlessly to Food Allergy

Little Ammaria Johnson was allergic to peanuts. The 7-year-old student at Hopkins Elementary School in Chesterfield, Virginia, died last week after ingesting the allergen and suffering an anaphylactic reaction.

What a loss.

What a waste.

What a tragedy.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Ammaria’s mother and family. As a parent, my heart goes out to them. I also know this death strikes absolute terror in the hearts of all parents of food-allergic children. Speaking on behalf of the Living Without team, we are heart broken and send the family our deepest condolences. It makes us more determined than ever to get the word out about food allergies.

Here’s the tragedy: Ammaria’s allergic reaction could have been easily treated with a simple dose of injected epinephrine. She would likely be alive today if the school had acted swiftly and administered this highly effective but otherwise harmless drug. Why the school didn’t use an EpiPen to address Ammaria’s symptoms is being debated.

Here in Virginia where I live--about 90 miles west of Ammaria’s elementary school in Chesterfield County--there’s no standardized policy for schools in terms of how to handle food allergies, who’s watching the kids for allergen contamination, who keeps the medicines, who can administer them, etc. Every school district has its own way of dealing (or sadly, not dealing). It often--too often!--takes direct and deliberate action by the parents of food-allergic children to effect positive change. Moms and dads must become advocates for their kids’ safety before school officials take things seriously.

We’ve been saying all along that a food allergy is serious business. It can be life threatening—as it was in this terrible instance. That’s why the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act (S. 1884/HR. 3627) was recently introduced on Capitol Hill. This federal legislation, promoted by FAAN (The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network), would encourage states to require schools to stock self-injected epinephrine that could be used on any student having an allergic reaction. For more about this bill, go to foodallergy.org.

Perhaps Ammaria’s needless death will push lawmakers to pass this bill and make a difference for all food-allergic kids. If you feel strongly about this (as we do), please let your Congressperson know. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the Johnson family.

Comments (8)

My heart and prayers go out to these parents. By God's mercy I pray they wouldn't blame themselves. Hopefully action can be taken to prevent this ever happening again.

Posted by: gfoodie | January 12, 2012 8:33 PM    Report this comment

First, my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of this little girl. What a sad reality that these tragedies do happen!

Second, thank you "Living Without" for being there to support all of us with food allergies and to bring important issues to the forefront of peoples minds. For the majority of people, they don't think twice about sharing the snack they have on hand with a friend (or friends child), having to pre-screen restaurants for "safe" food options, or carrying around an epi-pen for those emergency moments that we hope and pray will never happen. I think that one of the most important lessons we can learn from this is to educate our children, friends, schools, co-workers, and families of the true risks of food allergies.

I believe that teaching the use of an Epi-Pen should be a MANDATORY training for ALL individuals working with children. It should be a basic part of First-Aid training, just like knowing the signs of a stroke or heart attack. People should be made aware of what anaphylaxis looks like and how to treat it. Just like public buildings have an AED (automatic external defibrillator) to use on someone who has heart failure, they should have Epinephrine available to use in emergency allergy situations.

Yes, parents MUST advocate on behalf of their children. But schools, day care centers, and churches should also take the initiative to be educated and prepared in case of an emergency! Especially one involving children who may struggle to know what they are allergic to, how to know if they are having a reaction, and how to treat it.

This is not written to blame or shame the school. I can only imagine the grief that all involved in this particular situation are experiencing. I just hope that we can all walk away from this knowing that there is still much work, much education, and much advocating to be done!

Posted by: Unknown | January 12, 2012 3:58 PM    Report this comment

I just want to say that I am sorry for the family of this child. I don't think that banning the food is a problem. I have heard of some schools having an allergy lunchroom - which seems a bummer to me - separating out a kid for that reason - I can understand if it is super severe and the parents/child request it, but I hope it isn't forced. In addition. I think that better labeling practices and less use of big words (esp for children's sakes) would be beneficial. I also feel that every school should have epi pens, that teachers should be taught to administer them, and that parents could sign a release form.

Again, my condolences to the family.

Posted by: Unknown | January 12, 2012 3:12 PM    Report this comment

As a teacher and as a parent of a child with food allergies this is terrifying! But I still can't understand why the parent didn't push for the school to have an epi-pen, and know how to use it. I also understand why schools can't reasonably ban peanuts (or any allergy causing food for that matter) it's not feasible, and in this case it was a child on the play ground that shared a snack. Yes the child should have known not to eat the peanut, but she is also just a child. I also wonder if having epi-pens available in school offices will be enough, perhaps the teacher's need them in the class rooms?

Posted by: ASHLEY CASTRO | January 12, 2012 1:55 PM    Report this comment

Just so sad.

Posted by: Unknown | January 12, 2012 1:39 PM    Report this comment

It is always so easy to blame the school or teacher rather than looking at the whole scenario. Perhpas the parents or parent did not get the correct inforamtion to the school. As a retired teacher, please don't always blame the shool or teacher. This is a tragic, tragic occurence that needs a thorough investigation to determine the cause---jumping to conclusions and quick to blame answers could short change an answer or solution for someone else. Be sure to find out the truth and hold everyone accountable and then move forward with a solution.

Posted by: Jerri M | January 12, 2012 11:17 AM    Report this comment

I live in a small community in Northern Canada and one school principal I know tried banning peanuts and other foods that children were allergic to and the parents screamed. There must be an education system for parents to drill into them how important these bans are, even if for only one child. One child's illness, or death, is one too many, and that little one's parents won't be helped by hearing 'but we tried'.

Posted by: JENNIFER C | January 12, 2012 9:26 AM    Report this comment

I'm a retired teacher, and always checked for allergies and medical conditions as soon as I received my class list. The school nurse also notified me of those issues. From what I've read, the parent of this child did not provide the paperwork & epi-pen to the school for use in an emergency. As it stands now, the school would be liable for improper use. It's a real Catch-22 situation and a child died as a result. I believe that school nurses are essential - I wonder if there was one assigned to the school, because the nurse would/should have made sure the proper life-saving medication was there AND that the proper people were trained to use it. Legislation without oversight & training at the school level would not be effective.

Posted by: Jane E | January 12, 2012 8:56 AM    Report this comment

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