January 7, 2011

Sad News. . .

Posted in Food Allergy, Restaurants, Schools tagged , , at 4:07 pm by 1ElleofaWoman

Just before Christmas I heard some sad news.  A thirteen-year old girl name Katelyn died from anaphylaxis — which is a severe allergic reaction — after eating Chinese food during a party at her Chicago school.  Katelyn was reportedly allergic to peanuts. The reason this made headlines is because it is a rare occurrence.  But for those whose children suffer from food allergies, the story is still chilling because the possibility of a fatal allergic reaction exists for anyone with a severe food allergy. Studies indicate that food allergy reactions lead to approximately 200,000 emergency room visits each year, including an estimated 90,000 visits for anaphylaxis.

Often the critical difference between life and death depends on how quickly treatment is given. The biggest weapons we have to protect our children are education and vigilance.

I don’t personally know the facts of this case, but news reportssuggest that this was a preventable tragedy.  The death of a child is awful and brings out a lot of emotions and many are calling for ways to prevent another occurrence.  Parents have “called for schools to ban peanuts in any form”  (Chicago Tribune).  This would not have prevented Katelyn’s death, however, because those involved thought the food was free of peanuts.  I am sure that the parents and teacher truly thought that the food was safe, and the restaurant as well.

This is where education is crucial.  For those with a peanut allergy, it is not enough to ask if peanuts are an ingredient, you have to ask if peanuts or peanut oil are used anywhere in the kitchen.  Are the same utensils and pans used to cook all the meals?  Is there any chance of cross-contamination?  If a pan is used to make chicken with peanuts and then wiped clean before it is used to cook fried rice, the fried rice is not safe for a peanut-allergic person to eat.  If a wooden utensil is used to serve noodles in peanut sauce and then used to serve lo mein, the lo mein is not safe for a peanut-allergic person. The average person would not think to ask this and many cooks would not consider this either.

As a general rule, I don’t allow my daughter to eat Chinese food. Asian cuisine are on the list of “unsafe” foods for those with peanut and nut allergies. (see FAAN and FAI)  There is one exception in my area is P.F. Changs.   This restaurant has an excellent understanding of food allergies.  The food prepared for those with allergies are prepared in separate pots with separate utensils and are served on a different plate (round vs. square) to make sure that everyone is aware that this is specially prepared.  However, the average restaurant (Chinese or otherwise) is often not this aware.

Even the most educated and vigilant person can accidentally be exposed to an allergen.  That is why access to epinephrine (EpiPen,Twinject) and education on the symptoms and treatment of a food allergies are incredibly important.  According to reports it was known that Katelyn had a peanut allergy yet no epinephrine was available because it was not in her student health file.  It is essential for all students with food allergies to have a health plan created at school. My daughter’s allergists insist on it.  Not only is the nurse at my daughter’s school aware of her allergies, she has trained Jessica’s teachers on recognizing food allergies and how to administer epinephrine if the nurse is unavailable.

Puberty is an unpredictable time for children with food allergies.  Physically they are changing.  Allergies may be outgrown but new allergies may appear as well.  Reactions may become more intense and more dangerous. Once kids outgrow their toddler years, most kids have fewer allergic reactions.  They are older and less likely to accidentally ingest an allergen.  Unfortunately, this made lead to a false sense of security.

The loss of a child is inconsolable.  The thought that it may have been prevented if the school, restaurant, doctor, child and/or parents had a better understanding of allergies makes it sadder still.  I have been involved with support groups for many years and have found it to be a great resource. I continue in the group not only to help myself and my daughter, but to help educate others on keeping safe.

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