I’m sure by now you have heard about the tragic death of Virginia first grader, Ammaria Johnson. She died of cardiac arrest and anaphylaxis, according to a statement from Chesterfield County police. The girl had received food containing peanuts from another child who was unaware of Ammaria’s allergy, police said. Ammaria ate the food on the playground, and then approached a teacher, who took her to the school clinic. School personnel, responding police officers and firefighters were unable to save her life, and she was declared dead at Chippenham Hospital.
The one part about this story that struck me, was that the mother had been told by the school to leave her EpiPen at home. If your school tells you this: talk to their boss, the head nurse, the principal, the superintendent, to clue them in about what your child needs. We had to do a bit of pushing, but my daughter has an EpiPen in the classroom and in the nurse’s office.
Rightly so, there has been a tidal wave of outrage concerning this death. It was unnecessary, and it could have been prevented if she had been given epinephrine. Being a parent of a first grader with severe food allergies, it’s a hard reminder of what can happen on any given day and has me wondering what went wrong, so that it will never happen to us.
My daughter goes to a school where there are several other children with food allergies, but there has never been a serious allergy-related incident. It’s easy for parents, kids, teachers and administrators to get relaxed about the issue, especially now that school has been in session so long, but as parents, we need to keep the pressure on so that our children remain safe – so we aren’t an accident waiting to happen.
This is a check list to to ensure that we’re staying diligent (feel free to comment with more):
- Make sure your EpiPen (or other epinephrine auto-injector) and other medications are up to date and in place at school.
- Make sure you have an allergy action plan in place at your school. This plan should address all your concerns about where your child should eat, where your medication is, an indication that your child never be left alone in case of an allergy reaction, and other concerns that you have.
- Make sure your principal, nurse, nurse assistant, teachers, assistant teachers, lunch monitor, yard duty all know about your child and his/her special needs.
- Work diligently with your child to create a safe plan for their snack time and lunch time. Provide handy wipes for cleaning hands before eating. Visit their lunch time and snack time to see how it goes down – it can be a real eye opener. My daughter sits at the head of the table to limit being crowded between other kids while their eating lunch. The other kids are also asked not to sit near her if they have nuts in their lunch that day.
- Provide a fun, tasty, healthy, filling snack and lunch for your child. Never give your child a reason to go looking for food.
- Practice and go over what your child should do in case of a reaction. We have walked our daughter through the school and talked about what she should do in great detail.
- Keep communication open with the teacher so she can easily remind you about day to day food related issues that might arise in the classroom. (Just today my daughter’s class was having smoothies, which was good to know, and we brought our own special smoothie.)
School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act
Beyond the classroom, there is something else we can do to keep our children safe. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is working on federal legislation that would encourage states to adopt laws requiring schools to have on hand “stock” epinephrine auto-injectors – meaning epinephrine that is not prescribed specifically to a single student but can be used for any student and staff member in an anaphylactic emergency. This is important legislation that will save lives. Visit FAAN’s website to learn more, then download the sample letter of support and send it to your senators.
Lastly, we need to come together as parents to help our kids. If there is a child in your child’s class with food allergies, peanuts for example, keep the peanut butter at home. If you are bringing a snack to the class, choose something that everyone can have. Not only is it a chance to teach your child about including others, but an easy way keep another child safe. How heartbreaking it must be for that friend who gave Ammaria peanuts that day. Everyone involved is suffering and this beautiful child is lost.
Stay safe friends.
Until next time,