It's been a sad week in the allergy world!! We've all heard the awful the news of the death of Natalie Giorgi, 13. She was at a camp in Sacramento when she bit into a rice biscuit that contained peanuts. According to the news articles, Natalie spat it out straight away. Her parents monitored her symptoms and gave the epipen 20 minutes later. She had 3 shots of adrenaline in total and went into anaphylactic shock and cardiac arrest and died.
It's a tragic story and has devastated any parent of a child with severe food allergies. It's also raised a lot of questions, insecurities and fear in those facing this life threatening condition on a daily basis.
RIP Beautiful Natalie
Read more here...
Another related article I've come across is written by Dr Mark Greenwald. He says that we need to re-assess our anaphylaxis training. He says "Natalie’s death illustrates the gap between criteria used to diagnose anaphylaxis at consultation in a doctor’s office versus in a real world emergency".
He suggests it's dangerous to wait for symptoms to appear before we administer the adrenaline.
"IF THE PATIENT HAS THE POTENTIAL FOR ANAPHYLAXIS AND THERE HAS BEEN A KNOWN OR SUSPECTED EXPOSURE, THEN THE EMERGENCY PROTOCOL SHOULD BE ACTIVATED; IN OTHER WORDS GIVE EPINEPHRINE. WE DO KNOW THE EARLIER THE EPIPEN IS GIVEN, THE BETTER THE OUTCOME"
Here's a link to his article...
When tragedies like this occur, it raises thoughts of what we would have done in that situation. Would YOU have waited for the symptoms to appear? Would YOU have given the epipen immediately after exposure? If exposure does occur we are basically at the mercy of the adrenaline. How closely can we rely on it? Was Natalie's epipen faulty in some way? Was it expired? Was the window cloudy?
CAN WE RELY ON ADRENALINE IN THE CASE OF OUR OWN EMERENCY???
Ever since my son was diagnosed with so many food allergies, I made the decision NOT to allow FEAR to overwhelm my thought patterns. It's so easy to go down that path, but it won't get us anywhere. It will just rule our life and greatly minimise our current quality of life.
Just as in nature, whatever we feed grows. If we feed our fears they will grow.
I choose FAITH over fear. My faith lies in a living God, who brings peace, comfort and strength in times of distress and tragedy. Regardless of your own spiritual beliefs, the principle is the same.
Will YOU succumb to fear or choose FAITH?
While asking questions is necessary, we need to draw the line between asking the questions to learn from the experience and asking questions to feed our own fear of what could happen in our own lives.
The other important question which I haven't found discussed elsewhere is
What do we tell our kids?
I had an internal battle about whether or not to tell my kids about what happened to Natalie. The last thing I want to do is to frighten them. As parents, it is our job to protect them from the dangers of the big bad world. From the moment they are born, we instinctively want to protect our kids and keep them safe from harm. When they start becoming active, we 'baby proof' our homes so they don't hurt themselves. We but baby locks on cupboards, gates on stairs. We place sharp knives, poisons and our prescriptions drugs out of reach. We monitor what they are exposed to on TV and the internet. We try to cover all bases so our kids are kept in a safe environment.
It seems like we are on constant alert. There is always something to worry about.
When our child is diagnosed with life threatening food allergies, we are somewhat overwhelmed to begin with. A whole new danger to protect our children from. How will we ever cope?
What we are really asking is how will we be able to control this new danger?
The simple answer is 'We can't'
Despite our efforts, we can't possibly control whether they will come into contact with a peanut. We can't control it because we can't control other peoples actions. Just like Natalies mum and dad, they couldn't control the biscuit being at camp.
As parents, it is our job to protect our kids, but it's also our job to TEACH them. Our ultimate goal is to raise our kids to be independent responsible people. So we teach them along the way how to keep themselves safe. We teach them that the stove is hot and knives are sharp. We teach them about the dangers of the internet, stranger danger, alcohol and drugs. We teach them never to get in a car with a drunk driver. We continually teach them how to keep themselves safe. We need to TEACH our kids NOT to EAT ANYTHING they don't KNOW THE INGREDIENTS!
The last thing we want to do is instil fear into our children. We don't want them to carry a burden of something that may NEVER happen. After much thought, I decided that it was right for me tell my kids about what happened to Natalie.
I've raised my son to understand the consequences to his actions. From as early as I could, we've taught him about his food allergies. I needed him to know how dangerous food could be for him. As with teaching him other things, I've made him understand the consequences of what could happen if he ate the wrong thing. I've kept his memory alive of his last anaphylactic shock by reminding him how awful he felt. The consequence of eating the wrong food is feeling like that again or worse.
"Do you remember how awful you felt?" If you eat nuts/eggs/dairy (etc) this could happen".
I'm not sure whether it's because I am super blessed with such an incredibly switched on child or whether it's the way I have taught him, but he is so responsible when it comes to food I am continually amazed. From a very young age, I've seen him hold his hand up and refuse lollies and biscuits from well meaning adults and even children at the park.
To be real honest, just between you and I, I've found kids with some kind of special need such
as a life threatening condition, have an extra dose of special!
So, in saying all this, I agonised (and lost sleep) over whether to share Natalie's story or not. I didn't want to upset him, but I felt obligated to tell him. So during afternoon tea yesterday, I told my kids about Natalie. I began by saying I had some sad news. I told the story briefly and in a matter-of-fact way. I basically said that the consequence of Natalie eating the wrong biscuit was that she died. This is WHY it is so important that you continue to be so careful with EVERYTHING you eat!!
They listened, we prayed for Natalie and her family, and then my boy asked if there any biscuits left!
Kids are amazing, aren't they? They seemed to take it very well, but I guess you can never tell what goes on internally. Coincidence or not, that they both arrived in my bed at 3am after having nightmares. As with any teaching, they will process it in their own way. It's important as a parent to keep the communication going and to remain open to any questions.
So, let's honour Natalie and her family by learning from this tragedy. I've read many comments on different articles and blog posts about this tragedy. I'm disappointed when I read judgements from people who weren't there. It's not our place to judge. As parents we all do the best with the knowledge that we have. Her parents did what they felt was right, unfortunately it had a tragic outcome. Let's use this as a teaching tool to break us out of the temptation of complacency that we might fall into. It's so important to remain vigilant and aware of EVERYTHING our kids come into contact with. It's a hard road sometimes and emotionally draining but we need to keep the consequence at the forefront of our mind.
Sonya Lee x