No More Dead Children

Photo of victim from NBC 12.
Last year was a tough one for the food allergy community.  A fifteen year old died in Georgia. Within a week a twenty year old also died in the Atlanta area.  A six year old died in Montreal.

Instead of a better educated and more compassionate public, one girl faced parents at an elementary school, who actually made picket signs and protested her food allergy accommodations.  An airline refused to keep another boy safe by refraining from spreading airborne tree nut allergens.

I had cautious hopes that this year would be better.  Then I saw the news yesterday about seven year old Amarria Johnson who died Monday from an allergic reaction on her first day back at school in Chesterfield, Virginia.

This unnecessary death is so horrific, I can't begin to describe it.  Here's the story from WTVR of exactly how an allergic reaction should NOT be managed.

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, VA (WTVR) - Ammaria Johnson, a seven-year-old elementary school student in Chesterfield County, Virginia, died after suffering an allergic reaction at school.
According to Chesterfield police, the initial investigation revealed that the Hopkins Elementary School student, a first grader, died after she suffered an allergic reaction.
Johnson's family said it was a reaction to a peanut product.
Emergency crews were called to Hopkins Elementary Monday afternoon around 2:30 p.m.  When the EMS crew arrived, the child was in cardiac arrest, according to a Chesterfield Fire Department spokesman.
The child was pronounced dead a short time later at CJW Medical Center.
The child's mother, Laura Pendleton was distraught and she has many questions.
"She has an allergy plan at the school," said Pendleton, which authorizes the school to give her Benadryl during a reaction.  "They didn't do that," she said.
At the beginning of the school year, the mother said she tried to give the clinical aid an Epipen for emergencies, but she was declined and told to keep it at home.
Pendleton also wants to know how her daughter got access to the peanut.
She is also upset on how she says the school handled the situation.  "At 2:30 they called my wife and said somebody needed to pick Ammaria up because her tongue was swelling.  My wife told them to call 911."

Failure to give Benadryl, no Epi-pen on hand and the outrageous decision to call a parent instead of 911 when a child's airway is closing?  I don't even have words for this school's heinous behavior.  What part of "life threatening medical condition" did they not understand?  These people shouldn't be entrusted with the care of a gerbil, let alone a child's life.

And what kind of self-serving, we're-not-responsible-for-the-death-of-the-child-in-our-care, preparing-for-a-lawsuit garbage was the school district trying to serve up with its statement that this girl died of a "pre-existing medical condition"?  Here's the county's own guidelines for managing food allergies which the school failed to follow.  (Thanks to @IknowTiffany for the link.)

If I were a parent in that school district, nothing would outrage me more than the knowledge that the school was aware of the "pre-existing medical condition", had an action plan in place and still did not keep her safe.

Let me tell you what I want from 2012:  NO MORE DEAD CHILDREN.

Food allergy deaths are preventable.  The steps are simple, but require compassion and common sense which, clearly, are in short supply:
  • Label all food, beauty and medical products accurately and completely.
  • Ban airlines from serving peanuts and tree nuts, so that food allergic travelers are not denied safe access to public transportation because of their invisible disability.
  • Train restaurant staff to safely prepare meals and avoid cross-contamination for food allergic customers.
  • Have a licensed nurse on site in every school.
  • Create an appropriate food allergy plan for school children, and follow it to the letter.
  • Keep food in the cafeteria and out of the classroom.
  • Pass the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act.  Do it now before more children die.

I'm fresh out of tact and diplomacy.  I really don't give a damn about your child's "right to eat peanut butter" or some corporation's "proprietary information".  I just want to keep my son alive.

Please, that's all I want from 2012.  Don't kill my child.

My deepest, most heartfelt condolences go out to Amarria's family.  You are living my worst nightmare, and my heart bleeds for you.

Post updated to correct the spelling of Amarria's name which was misspelled Ammaria in the original news reports.


Jessica said...

This is so heartbreaking. I hope and pray that as my son gets into school in the next few years that I have cooperation with his teachers and administrators. If not, it will be another school or homeschool for us!

Anonymous said...

I live in Princ Edward Co.Virginia about an hour away from Chesterfield. I to have a seven year old daughter with a peanut and tree nut allergy. She carries her epi-pen everwhere she goes in school, all of her teachers have been trained how to use it. Emergancy plan is in place. But I am still scared to death now for her saftey. The school doesn't serve peanuts or peanutbutter. However it still can be carried in lunchboxes from home. Ban it from schools end of subject. If those parents had a child like mine or like the little girls who just died they would be afraid. Please everyone think about that. I can not belive the school action or lack of for the care of that little girl. Thoughtless, unprofessional, and blind to the fact that were shown to them by her parents. Good Bless them and thank u for keeping the public aware. We need peanut products out of school systems. PROTECT OUR CHILDREN

Anonymous said...

Banning peanut products is a false sense of security. What if the kids eat it at home, and don't wash their hands or wipe it on their sleeve and then come in contact with the allergic child. What about kids who are deathly allergic to milk, do you ban milk products? Banning anything is not a solution.
Education is the key to protecting your kids. Just because a plan is in place doesn't mean people are aware. The district deserves the massive lawsuit coming there way, but banning things is not the answer. And yes, my child has a food allergy.

Mouseymom said...

oh my goodness. makes my heart rate skyrocket. my allergic son is in Kindergarten and everytime the school calls me, I go into "emergency mode". thankfully there have been no issues.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have said it any better. I have been done with diplomacy for a long time now. I read the writing on the wall with our school district's absolute refusal to provide an allergen free classroom and withdrew our child to homeschool. We are not leaving without holding them accountable however. As a community we need to stand up (loudly) against schools who deny our kids a Free And Appropriate Public School Education by not providing a safe environment. 504 plans for food allergic children are a MUST. If schools violate them, REPORT them to OCR. If your school won't agree to provide medically necessary accommodations, don't just accept it, request Due Process. Schools have been going unchecked and unchallenged for too long. It's time to change that.

Anonymous said...

This is so sad. what this school calls a "clincial aid" (is it a licensed nurse?) and if the mom gave an epipen to the school, who said no??

To anonymous, having a peanut ban at school does not give any sense of security. My daughter's school has a nut ban, which is great, but no it does not give me a great sense of security.


Teri said...

I will go you a step further. I want criminal prosecution of all school officials responsible for Ammaria's death. I want laws on the books that anyone who interferes with a child's ability to carry 2 epi-pens on them at all times gets a long, healthy jail sentence in a hard facility, no country club jails. I want them held personally financially responsible so taxpayers aren't on the hook for their idiocy. This is no different than if a school admin knew there was a loaded gun in school, watched a child get shot, and did nothing to help the victim.

I have been anaphylactic since I was 6 years old, and trust me, my school did not handle it well many times. I was bullied, I had peanuts thrown at me during lunch, I had kids trying to sneak peanuts into my lunch. I couldn't have my epi-pen on me, it had to be locked in school because of legalistic policies that only educated me that my life was worthless to some people compared to their ability to check boxes on stupid "safety" checklist. This, however, was 25 years ago.

The solution is NOT education, school nurses, 504 plans, or what-have-you. We've had decades to educate, develop plans, get nurses in school buildings, and children are still dying. School nurses are just as capable of ignoring a 504 plan as any teacher. The solution is to force school admins to have some skin in the game. If they want to risk destroying families by killing their children with their willful ignorance, they should ante their own freedom and financial success. The only way to reach the kind of troglodytes who willingly sacrifice a child's life on the altar of convenience or legalistic school policies that don't actually keep anyone safe is to sacrifice their families on the same altar. If you destroy a family the way that Ammaria Johnson's family has been destroyed, you should spend a good chunk of your life sitting in a jail cell with every cent they can get out of you going toward the lifelong therapy her relatives will need to reconcile the cruelty of her death. Why should the taxpayers have to pay for the idiocy of school officials who did not take a known LTFA seriously?

School officials have an obligation to educate themselves about the hot-button issues for schools, and it's not like food allergies are rare, the condition is just springing up, or that the information isn't out there. Frankly, the onus is NOT on parents to educate people who are supposed to be smart enough to teach our children what "life-threatening" means, nor should they be responsible for communicating to parents of non-allergic children that bullying is not tolerated. That's the school's job. The parent's job is to communicate the specifics of their child's allergies, NOT to teach teachers that a child dying in school is a bad thing. The fact that school admins are not taking the 10 minutes it would take to google food allergies and learn the bulk of what they need to know to understand how serious they are doesn't indicate a lack of education. It simply indicates a total lack of will. One that should be called for what it is: criminal negligence.

Ayesha said...

I am so terrified, its still happening. Schools just don't take food allergy seriously. My child is severely allergic to dairy, egg and nuts/peanuts, she is a first grader too. Educating school is the key but education should be on continual basis, otherwise they start taking it lightly.

Anonymous said...

I am frightened and sickened to read what happened to this precious first grade girl. My son is a first grader and has a life threatening, peanut and tree nut allergy. I worry endlessly about him and am always doing my best to inform everyone he comes in contact with. He carries an epi-pen and sits at a peanut free table at lunch. (Yet there are chilren eating peanut butter sandwiches at the next table over.) He chooses his birthday treats from the safe treat bin I provide for him. He TELLS everyone that he has an allergy and usually asks if the food is SAFE. He often refuses a treat that is safe, just in case. My sweet boy is the BEST defense against ingesting nuts or peanuts because he lives with the being so so scared of getting sick. I feel like I must do more to be an advocate for these children with food allergies. There needs to be a law banning peanuts and nuts in school. We must never stop protecting these precious souls. This is heartbreaking for this family. I am so so sorry this happened to them. This school should be held responsible for the loss of this child!

acutaboveboys said...

Teri...your comment is the best one I've read so far, anywhere. I, too, am done with diplomacy. We're talking about the lives of my children...their safety. Don't we, from the time of their birth, learn all we can to keep them healthy and safe? Why is awareness of life threatening food allergies any different? The alter of convenience is a perfect way of summing up this willful laziness on the part of so many. Not just educators, but our selfish society as a whole.

Anonymous said...

I am in full agreement: There should be a law banning peanuts and tree nuts in schools and I suspect we will see such legislation introduced as the incidence of food allergies continues to rise. In the meantime there are two things we need to do: (1) Pass the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act! (Call your congressional representatives!) and (2) Educate the parents of non-food allergic kids. I strongly urge all parents to read the open letter on SnackSafely.com entitled Why Your Child Can’t Bring Peanut Butter to School (and What You Can Do About It) and forward it on to everyone you know. It does a great job of framing the issue in a non-confrontational manner.

Anonymous said...

That this happened saddens and infuriates me. There are so many things done wrong that could have prevented this. Teri, absolutely!
A point to consider- if peanut butter is banned in schools, my child then is relegated to fruit and cheese for lunch, as there literally isn't anything else he can eat that can be sent to school. Oh, wait. Some folks want dairy products banned, as well. There goes the cheese.
I cherish life. Amarria's death was pointless and unnecessary. Banning common foods is not the answer. Getting to the real reason for the increasing prevalence of LFTAs is.
I sincerely pray we can figure it out without killing or starving our children.

Anonymous said...

But if your child does not have a food allergy, you choices are not as limited as fruit and cheese. My daughter has a nut allergy and is a picky eater and I can't give her products with cross contamination warnings, further limiting choices. And I am able to still find things to send to school for her to eat.

Unknown said...

Not only is this ridiculous...

"The child's mother, Laura Pendleton was distraught and she has many questions.
"She has an allergy plan at the school," said Pendleton, which authorizes the school to give her Benadryl during a reaction. "They didn't do that," she said.
At the beginning of the school year, the mother said she tried to give the clinical aid an Epipen for emergencies, but she was declined and told to keep it at home."

...but the statement from the school? I just saw that for the first time here. It's absolutely infuriating.

Donica said...

To Anonymous who wrote that his/her child would "literally" have nothing to eat if peanut butter was banned at school: there are peanut-free substitutes such as sunflower-seed butter (name brand: SunButter). It is delicious, tasting just like peanut butter to me. Peanut butter has never been completely banned outright from my child's schools (sometimes banned from the classrooms, though), but parents have been asked to help limit any possible exposures by choosing *not* to send in peanut-products. Guess what: my daughter's friends want to sit with her at lunch, so ask their parents to send non-peanut foods. I am thankful for the compassion of my daughter's friends and their parents.

Anonymous said...

I have a child w/allergies in this school district. I can tell you this they do no take food allergies seriously. I had to fight really hard this year just to get my child a peanut free lunch table this year. I was told because of "overcrowding issues in the lunch room" this year was a problem. I talked to the assistant principal, who was responsible to setting up the peanut free table, several times and she had absolutely zero sense of urgency. I then went to the public health nurse for the school and who was very helpful in making sure my son's teacher and bus driver were made aware of his allergies and what to do. I still had to battle w/the assistant principal over the table. After the 3rd time speaking w/her, she finally said there would be one the following Monday. I made sure to go out there and have lunch w/my child that day and there was a table but no sign????? I had to call her back to let her know there was no sign designating the table peanut free. Anyway, there is now a peanut free table but not without a long battle. I have an action plan at school and one epi pen. But now I'm going to add a 2nd epi pen. Parents w/children w/severe allergies DON'T FORGET TO MAKE SURE THE TEACHER TAKES THE EPI PENS ON FIELD TRIPS. My son's teacher does and it does make me feel better that I know they are aware. Also, the cafeteria worker at school is aware of my son's allergies and she makes sure is table to kept clean. We have to be our kid's advocates and sometimes we have to fight until things are done right.

Anonymous said...

They called her mother to come pick her up instead of calling 911?! My god. That poor little girl! It just breaks my heart, this was so incredibly preventable.

Anonymous said...

BANNING CAN BE A GREAT THING! I really wish that people would understand this! Ban's can be great AS LONG AS there is a very good understanding that it is only to REDUCE THE RISK. Do we "ban" food in our homes? Yes, many fa families ban offending foods from their home to REDUCE THE RISK. It is not meant as a cure all or to give a false sense of safety. If using a ban, the only way to do so successfully is to make it well know that it is to reduce the risk, and to make sure there is a great plan in place to avoid reactions, and respond in the event of one. Get a 504 plan! Get an IEP. Educate. Advocate and make aware.

Poker Chick said...

couldn't have said it better. such a sad story and could happen to anyone. Our schools need to be safer, period. This was preventable, that's what's so heartbreaking. Ignorance killed this child.

Sabrina said...

I'm sorry but it is totally 100% unreasonable to demand that airlines ban all tree nuts and peanuts. You seriously cannot expect that 98% of the population who does not have these allergies to do so. Where does it end? Should milk and egg products be banned from the public as well? Should schools not have recess because one child may be allergic to bee stings? There seems to be a real sense of entitlement on the part of the allergy community.

Libby said...

Sabrina, first thank you for disagreeing politely. Second, you are absolutely correct that it is basically impossible to ban a specific food from a public space, of which the food allergy community is painfully aware. I meant airlines should be banned from SERVING peanuts and tree nuts, and have updated the post accordingly.

As individuals with a real, although invisible, disability, we ARE entitled to public education and public transportation. Too many food allergic children are now home schooled, not because their parents choose too, but because the public school is unsafe. I'm not a proponent of blanket peanut/tree nut (or other food) bans, except in a few limited circumstances, but it is reasonable to expect food to be confined to the cafeteria and have students wash their hands after lunch.

Airlines are a special circumstance because nut proteins can be aerosolyzed. In an environment with recirculated air and no access to emergency medical services for several hours at a time, they can easily cause a fatality. They also can become attached to the seats and other surfaces and cause a contact reaction on a later flight. Giving up free packets of peanuts is hardly an inconvenience when others' lives are on the line.

The number of children with food allergies is increasing and no one knows why. I hope you and your loved ones are never impacted by them, including by witnessing the death of one of our children.

Sabrina said...

I am glad that you are not a proponent of an outright. I am completely in favor of a peanut free table at schools but do not think an outright ban is appropriate past preschool. What about families with limited incomes who use PBas a nutrition rich p, inexpensive source of protein to feed their children. Are they entitled to feed their children?

As far as planes, what is to prevent passengers from eating nuts or peanuts before boarding? What if no food is served on a long flight and someone brings an allergy causing food? II do not mean to be rude, and I appreciate the precautions that allergy families must take, but the fact is that even with increasing incidence, 98% +\- is not allergic.

Mum from Oz said...

My son has started kindy and some students in his class have severe nut and egg allergies. I will be doing everything I possibly can to prevent posing an allergy threat to any of these children. Research has shown me there are many alternative ingredients that can be used. Treat others how you would like to be treated if in their shoes.

Anonymous said...

I feel that kids with such allergies should be homeschooled. They take away all these things that is considered healthy for kids without the allergies, they are mainly proteins that a good parent wants their child to eat. Why stop all the kids in an entire school from having good lunches just because one child can't have or even smell that stuff? It's like they're punishing the other kids, and their parents because.. it leaves other parents with ZERO choices for their kids lunches!

Libby said...

I'm not a supporter of food bans, except in rare circumstances, but I am NEVER in favor of banning food allergic children. Perhaps the inconvenience of not being able to eat a favorite food at a certain meal is an opportunity to teach a child compassion. Or maybe an opportunity to rethink your perspective.