January 4, 2012

Another Sad News Story

Posted in Food Allergy, Schools tagged , , , at 1:19 pm by 1ElleofaWoman

I just read a very upsetting news article, “Child dies in school from peanut allergic reaction:  Mother questions school’s actions.”  According to the news article, a seven-year-old first-grade student in Virgina died from an allergic reaction earlier this week.  My heart goes out to this family at such a senseless death.

While I don’t know all the facts, I gather from the article that there was a complete lack of education all around.  While the county school district and health services department has what appears to be a very good food allergy policy, like any policy it is worthless if not followed.

According to the article, “the mother said she tried to give the clinical aid an EpiPen for emergencies, but she was declined and told to keep it at home.”  This goes against the district’s own policy as well as everything taught by most allergists and advocacy groups including FAAN, the Food Allergy Initiative and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Also in the article is another clue about the lack of education: “School officials encouraged all parents to submit a list of their child’s allergies that can be retained on file.” A list by itself is useless.  After a tragedy like this one, the school should release a statement along the lines of “District officials advise parents to make sure that the school has all medical information as well as medication necessary for their child. They encourage the parents to speak to teachers and school personnel about any specific accommodations their child may need.  The district is looking into the incident and will make sure that teachers and staff members are appropriately trained in food allergies.” To simply ask for a list of allergies speaks volumes about the lack of awareness.

My daughter has been fortunate in that she has never experienced a reaction in school. I do know of several kids, whose mom belongs to my support group, who have.  Accidents have happened;  people make mistakes. But the absolute, final defense is the administering of epinephrine. In November, a kindergarten student in Washington was treated for an allergic reaction. Common-sense guidelines were not followed – the teacher had peanut-laden snacks on her desk and the child was not taught to eat only what her parents approved (or ignored what she had been taught) and ate a pretzel without asking.  Unfortunate circumstances. But not tragic. The nurse gave the child epinephrine and the child was taken to the hospital. A trip to the hospital is never good — here’s hoping that the school better trains the teachers so that this doesn’t happen again in the future — but it is far better than a trip to the morgue.

To read that a child with food allergies did not have access her EpiPen in school makes me want to scream.

Education is key. If I could speak to all parents whose children have food allergies I would tell them:

  • You are your child’s best advocate. Educate yourself about allergies and how to manage them.
  • Learn your child’s rights at school at don’t take “no” for an answer. FAI has some great guidelines on coping with food allergies in school.  Make sure that your child’s teachers are knowledgeable about your child’s allergy (what to avoid, how to recognize anaphylaxis, how to handle birthday parties and school functions with food, etc.) and that appropriate school personnel are trained to administer epinephrine and know where it is located.
  • The second-best advocate is your child.  Teach your child age-appropriate strategies to stay safe.  I began teaching my daughter as soon as she was diagnosed at 20 months and as a toddler she knew to take food only from me or my husband.  In preschool, she knew not to eat anything unless I approved it.  She saw me speak to the teacher and read ingredients labels for daily snacks. In grade school, more than once she has declined food because neither my husband nor I approved it; she would ask the nurse or teacher to call me. She is 10 now and reads labels herself, which my husband and I double-check.  So far she has always accurately picked safe foods. She practices how to administer her EpiPen when her EpiPens expire.

There is more that a parent of a food-allergic child needs to know, but if you start with these three concepts and work from there, you will have a good foundation for managing food allergies.

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1 Comment

  1. Elissa said,

    Great Blog! Thanks for taking the time to educate and inform! That article broke my heart as well and it just re-inforced me to be on top of things for my son and teach him to be an advocate for himself as he gets older!


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