I have been sitting here for a few days, thinking over the death of a fellow New Yorker. a 3 year old boy, due to a dairy allergy. I have so much to say, so much going on in my head, that I had to stop and think about it all.
This senseless tragedy didn’t need to happen. Yet, I also can’t help but feel I saw this type of thing coming. And I am frustrated. And I am angry. Anyone who has read my other blog posts knows I have been very vocal about the risks posed by a dairy allergy. I have been very vocal about how the world knows about nut allergies and even accommodates nut allergies. The world doesn’t know food allergies outside of nuts. It’s sad but true. I have been a dairy allergy and food allergy mom for 13 years. I have had to fight to keep both my boys safe and included; even fighting within the food allergy community itself. I have long pointed out the media focus is on nuts only. I have pointed out that the “advocates” who we all see also are very nut allergy focused. Every time I would point out that nut bans don’t protect other allergic kids, or that dairy allergies were just as dangerous, I would be attacked, called names, even blocked. I have called papers like the New York Times, when they ran a story last January over flying with peanut allergies, the dangers and the struggles, and had to tell them they are overlooking the risks to those managing other food allergies. I have been told the risk with peanut allergy is greater in schools because it’s messy, because it stays on surfaces, and that peanut allergies simply are more deadly. I have been told I am lucky that my sons have a dairy allergy and not a peanut allergy because peanut allergy is deadly. I have been told that peanut and nut allergy awareness will help those of us with other allergies. That line has been said to me so many times over the last 10 years and nothing has changed!
Dairy can not be avoided anywhere. Indeed, it’s required in schools per the USDA. Pizza, ice cream and grilled cheese are the foods of choice for kids, and yet most don’t equate it to the danger of a peanut butter sandwich. Why? The risk is the same. So we who manage a dairy or other allergy have no choice; our kids are surrounded by their allergens, and that means they are always at risk.
So many questions about this tragedy remain, but we as parents must demand that the people who take care of our children understand the seriousness of the situation. We must have better education for anyone who works with a child of any age with a food allergy. We must ensure that each school has tight policies and procedures on how kids get food. We must make sure that each adult knows of every child’s allergy. We must have a no sharing food rule, and we must make sure that staff know how to identify and treat anaphylaxis. We can not have this conversation only be around nut and peanut allergies. It must be policies that cover and protect all.
While I don’t know the specifics in this case, I immediately suspected the child had asthma, and he did. That makes me think that the adults present may have thought he was just having an asthma attack. This points up another thing missing in our food allergy world–the conversation that having asthma is indication for a severe reaction. The great thing is, epinephrine can treat both conditions; but an inhaler alone will not treat anaphylaxis. It is vital to have a food allergy action plan, and that is what should have been followed. There is but a small window of time during which epinephrine will work. It must be administered quickly.
While we can’t go turn back time and bring back little Elijah, I want people to see this tragedy as a wake up call and use it to educate about the dangers of food allergies other than peanut and nut allergies. We must treat all food allergies equal. It’s a matter of life and death.