My wife didn’t say anything. I walked into the living room and saw on my phone that she had tweeted this:
Sophia has the same allergy. My worst nightmare! "Allergic reaction at school kills girl? huff.to/x2Vyjx"—
Rose Downs (@DownsRose) January 08, 2012
I said. She looked at me and said
That is my worst nightmare.
She read parts of the news story.
She was 7.
They had an action plan.
She authorized Benadryl, but they didn’t give it.
She tried to give them an EpiPen, but they refused.
They made her leave it at home.
What? Are you kidding me? You can’t leave it at home!
She shook her head in disbelief, just staring at her phone.
This little girl, Ammaria Johnson had a diagnosed peanut allergy. She came into contact with them at school, went into Anaphylaxis, and died. Time was of the essence and they didn’t help her.
There is no excuse today to not understand how serious peanut allergies are. Many classrooms and schools have gone peanut free and most parents know of a child that has that or another allergy. Recent findings show that at least 1 in 12 children has a food allergy, and it is probably more, since those with a diagnosis are disproportionately upper middle class and those most likely to have them are underrepresented in the data. Peanuts are also extremely dangerous because, unlike other allergens, it crumbles easily and travels quickly through the air. It is very easy to contaminate anything with a single peanut. It is a very big deal.
For many parents, this is the nightmare. That our kids don’t really have a chance. You can’t just instruct children, because they aren’t going to understand it; not really. How can we truly expect a 7 year-old to make decisions about what to eat when adults have trouble reading warning labels? How can we expect a 7 year-old to not eat something unwrapped and put in front of her or offered to her by a best friend? How can we keep our children safe if the response to a tragedy like this is:
Chesterfield schools spokesman Shawn Smith told the paper the girl died of a “pre-existing medical condition.”
Nice job, taking responsibility. Makes parents feel really safe.
And even the expert consulted for the story, Dr. Dan Atkins mildly opines:
“There are kids who don’t know they’re food allergic until they get into the food,” Atkins told ABC. “In that situation, it would be good to have an EpiPen available.”
“It would be good to have an EpiPen available”? That’s the response you give? Maybe we ought to think about having one, ya know, just in case.
For millions of children, an EpiPen is literally the only thing that will save their lives in an emergency. This school wouldn’t let the parents leave one there (Red flag, parents! Get your kid into a different school!). An expert in the field suggests we should probably keep a couple on hand. Here’s what I say:
Train everybody in the flipping school like this is life and death! Train students! You put the kids through “stranger danger” training in Kindergarten, the least you can do is help them understand that this is a big deal! Treat allergies like the epidemic they are!
Of course, for me, this isn’t an academic exercise. My daughter is allergic to peanuts. I’ve had to administer epinephrine through an EpiPen. She has gone into Anaphylaxis because a friend gave her peanut butter hidden in her room and from a cake baked on shared equipment. We’ve watched and we’ve trained her. She’s 3.5 years old. How vigilant do we have to be? How much do we have to do before people wake up? At what point does the world stop thinking about CYA with legal disclaimers and means of excluding children and others with life-threatening allergies and think one simple thought:
Maybe we shouldn’t be responsible for a child’s death.
[See also an earlier writing of mine about allergies called "Maybe I'm Allergic to Your Intolerance". And, in a moment that can only be called a synchronicity, my daughter had me read The Princess and the Peanut Allergy to her tonight as I was in the middle of writing this post.]