There were a high number of allergy-related tragedies reported in the spring of 2013: three young people have died from anaphylactic reactions brought on by food allergies in the space of two months.
On April 7, 2013, Adrian Gutierrez, an 8-year-old boy from Monmouth County, New Jersey, experienced a severe reaction and died in hospital. The reaction came over the boy on his family’s drive home from church, following a visit to a coffee shop. The boy’s mother suspects that Adrian, who was allergic to dairy and peanuts, may have accidentally sipped from his brother’s hot chocolate with milk. (Adrian had ordered a hot chocolate with soy milk.)
One news report stated that an epinephrine auto-injector was administered to the boy. However, it is not clear whether the shot was given immediately after the reaction began, or whether there was a significant delay. In the case of a severe allergic reaction, epinephrine should always be administered right away, as the drug can be less effective if a reaction has progressed.
On March 13, 2013, Maia Santarelli-Gallo, a 12-year-old girl from Burlington, Ontario (in Canada), appears to have experienced anaphylaxis during an outing to a shopping mall with her father and older sister. Local news reports suggest Maia had reacted to dairy and egg in the past, but her parents had been told she was intolerant rather than allergic, and she had never been prescribed an auto-injector. At this point, it is not definitively known what caused the reaction, but milk is suspected – since the last thing Maia ate was an ice cream cone.
Asked to comment on the girl’s fatal reaction, allergist Dr. Susan Waserman expressed profound concern to the local press. “It speaks to the need for proper diagnoses, proper education, how the family was told to handle this supposed food intolerance,” she said, adding that better support for the family would have led the girl to have an auto-injector. “The whole community feels terrible when we feel something like this,” she said.
On March 8, 2013, Cameron Groezinger-Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old from Plymouth, Massachusetts, died from his peanut allergy while home from university for spring break. His family has said that a friend had offered him a cookie, which was supposed to be peanut-free but turned out to contain peanut butter.
According to ABC News, Cameron’s mother was told over the phone by a 911 operator not to administer an EpiPen that was in a nearby cupboard, since it had expired*. Cameron’s current auto-injector couldn’t be found in time, as he had not finished unpacking for his visit.
“I didn’t know you can die from nut allergies. I feel foolish,” Robin Fitzpatrick, Cameron’s mother, told ABC News.
These tragic events reinforce the need for allergy education and having epinephrine always ready to access for those with food (and sting) allergies.
In more positive news, several states are beginning to see the importance of readily available epinephrine and are passing bills that allow doctors to prescribe “stock” auto-injectors to schools. These devices can used in emergencies for students who don’t have an auto-injector on school premises (in some cases, it may be a first allergic reaction).
Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, Georgia and Tennessee have all seen recent progress in such bills in their state legislatures. In fact, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear will be holding a formal ceremony to sign that state’ stock epinephrine bill into law on April 22, 2013.
*Editor’s Note: Allergists strongly recommend keeping your auto-injectors up-to-date but, in an emergency where only an expired auto-injector is available, most would recommend using it.
See also: Utah boy dies after tasting peanut pretzel