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Dear Marie Malavoy, Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport, and Dr. Réjean Hébert, Minister of Health and Social Services,

I must draw your attention to the death of 6-year-old Megann Ayotte Lefort at a Montreal school. Her story is a tragedy that stands to be repeated unless the Quebec government acts soon to create a much-needed law to protect schoolchildren at risk of anaphylaxis and asthma. Such legislation is overdue, as Quebec has fallen behind other regions of North America, most notably Ontario, in ensuring universal procedures to safeguard this vulnerable population of students.

Megann's death occurred two weeks into her school life. Her mother dropped her off at a school daycare on the evening of September 16, 2010, in order to attend a parent-teacher meeting along with Megann's father. Almost immediately, the girl began crying and complaining of breathing difficulty (she had asthma and an anaphylactic allergy to dairy). The teacher gave her two doses from her Ventolin inhaler, but the child's condition continued to deteriorate.

It wasn't until 40-45 minutes after the girl's arrival that a teacher went to find the parents. They ran to find their now unresponsive daughter, and 911 was finally called. But this was too late for little Megann, who was pronounced dead in hospital at 8:20 that evening. In the resulting coroner's report, submitted on August 9, 2011, the pathologist determined that the cause of death was an allergic and asthmatic reaction. (The child had eaten a store-bought sandwich just before arriving at the daycare.)

With both anaphylaxis and asthma, there are a few important rules, as leading specialists from the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology have made clear. The first is too act fast, that seconds count. If anaphylaxis is suspected – and should be whenever such a child has recently eaten – the epinephrine auto-injector should be given immediately. Then 911 is to be called and then – and only then – are family members to be contacted. Epinephrine will also help asthma, but an asthma pump will do nothing to slow the progress of anaphylaxis.

Had the staff at Megann's school been fully aware of the signs of anaphylaxis and the protocols of calling 911 and giving the epinephrine auto-injector, there is a chance the girl would be alive today. According to a study headed by McGill University's Dr. Ann Clarke, over 7 percent of the population has food allergies. This means an estimated 72,000 Quebec school children today have food allergies, and are at risk of serious reactions.

In Ontario, there is Sabrina's Law, named unfortunately for a 13-year-old girl who died of an anaphylactic reaction. But lessons were learned there. The Ontario legislation offers specific protections and significant training to teachers and other school staff who will be supervising a child at risk of anaphylaxis. It requires principals to draw up an anaphylaxis plan for the school and to have an individualized plan for the specific student, prepared with the input of the child's doctor and parents.

I hope you will review and consider very seriously that Quebec needs a law to protect the many children like Megann. A law would provide the consistency of protection from school to school, teacher to teacher, wherever you live in the province.


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cc : Dr Horacio Arrudar, directeur national de la Santé publique