Sabrina’s Law: The Girl and the Allergy Law
The girl’s heart was restarted at the local hospital and she was airlifted to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. Sabrina’s young heart and lungs were strong but she’d suffered significant brain damage.
Later, it would be determined that her devastated condition was the result of anaphylaxis due to food allergy. The coroner posited that the allergic trigger was dairy protein, which Sabrina would have been exposed to through cross-contamination from tongs used to lift her fries. Those same tongs had also been used to serve orders accompanied by poutine, the French Canadian accompaniment of gravy and melted cheese curds. She would have been allergic to the curds.
On September 30, a day after her reaction, Sabrina was removed from life support and died.
At a press conference in Ottawa almost a year after Sabrina’s death, Dr. Andrew McCallum, the chief coroner for Eastern Ontario, called for the implementation of comprehensive anaphylaxis management plans in the schools, and said that high schools, in particular, needed to pay better attention to the need to protect allergic children such as Sabrina. All schools, he said, should keep epinephrine auto-injectors available in the school office and staff and teachers must have proper training in the use of the device.
Then Sara Shannon stepped up to the microphone to tell the assembled media that, while her daughter lay dying, “I made a promise to Sabrina that I would do whatever is possible to prevent this fate from happening to any other child. Please help me to keep my promise,” she said softly.
SABRINA SHANNON died two days before Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal Party were voted in to power in the province. The party even had a line in its platform promising that, if elected, it would require public schools to have anaphylaxis plans based on Ontario-wide standards. Such words were encouraging to those who had been lobbying, even before Sabrina’s death, to pass a law requiring school allergy procedures.
Dave Levac, then a Liberal MPP from the Brantford area and a former high school principal, first introduced a private member’s bill to protect anaphylactic students in the province’s elementary and secondary schools in June 2002. While many schools had anaphylaxis plans in place, he thought it was dangerous that the standard was not been consistent.
His view is that uniform procedures will avoid “the arguing [between schools and parents], the gnashing of teeth in the protection of a child.”
His first bill died on the order paper under a Conservative government, as did his next effort. But with the Liberals barely sworn in to office, Levac’s third attempt – the proposed Act to Protect Anaphylactic Pupils – became Bill 3, numbered near the top of the pile.
The MPP and Cindy Paskey, then president of the Niagara region’s anaphylaxis association, had worked together since 2002 – organizing letter campaigns and petitions. They were elated as Bill 3 passed second reading on December 4, 2003. Now it just needed to go to a standing committee for a consultation process before a final reading enshrined it in law.
But for more than a year, the bill simply sat. By March 2005, Paskey and Laurie Harada, the executive director of Anaphylaxis Canada, were concerned: the clock was ticking on Bill 3 – if it didn’t get passed during this session of the legislature, it would die.
Levac would have to start yet again, with a new bill. Then the Shannon family stepped in to help, and Sabrina soon became the human face of this legislation. Anaphylaxis Canada dubbed Bill 3, “Sabrina’s Law,” driving home Shannon’s point from that Ottawa press conference that no other child should suffer her daughter’s fate. Sara Shannon and Laurie Harada met with government officials who were receptive to their concerns.