Thursday, April 16, 2015

On Food Allergies: Another Life Lost, Another Lawsuit

       My heart breaks every time I read another food allergy related death in the news. 

      As you may have known, Child#2 and Child#3 who both have multiple food allergies and asthma, are high risk for anaphylaxis. Though we haven't had a trip to the ER related to it yet (Thank God!), the fear of having a severe reaction every time they eat is always there.  

       Last month, there were two food allergy related news that created a stir in the web. Though both has been shared a few times in several food allergy groups on Facebook, I can't help but share it to you and voice out my opinions about it. 

      The first story was about the parents of an 11 year old boy from Alabama who died last June 3, 2014 due to an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts.  They are now suing their local Publix Grocery Store for the death of their son.  

        According to the article,

"The purpose of the lawsuit is the raise the awareness of food allergens that are potentially fatal in children, to have Publix follow the federal law in labeling food allergens and obtain some measure of compensation for the family."
The family is suing for mental and emotional distress and suffering, as well as punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.

       You can read the full story here.

     The second story was about a family from Minnesota who filed a lawsuit against a local diner after their 16 year old son who has a severe dairy allergy passed away from complications due to an anaphylactic reaction. They were saying that the restaurant's negligence is to blame for the untimely death of their son.  

     Check out the full story here.

Photo courtesy of CreativeClam 

    After years of dealing with my children's food allergies, I have to say, these news were quite disturbing for me.  Yes, both incidents, though had a tragic end were instrumental in spreading information about the severity of food allergies. Their stories were a proof that a food allergy is not a joke or a hype. I can't even imagine the pain of losing a precious child over a piece of cookie or pancake.  That's why I'm really saddened by the loss.

     The lawsuits however, don't have my sympathy. In both cases, the restaurant, grocery store and their employees showed that they lack the necessary knowledge and precautions to handle food allergies. That doesn't mean though that the sole responsibility of the deaths is theirs alone.  (I'm not a lawyer just an opinionated mom).

      As much as I hate to say it, the parents did make a lot of mistakes as well. They broke some cardinal rules of managing food allergies such as:

1. Know the ingredients of what your child is about eat.

      That's the main reason why we read food labels and ask for better food labeling. In both scenarios, the children ingested food that are not even labeled. We are not talking about fresh or frozen fruit or vegetables here. To be more specific, it's a chocolate cookie and pancake. Products that require several processed ingredients which can be easily exposed to cross contamination. Plus, both can are often times made with ingredients (nut and dairy), the boys are known to be severely allergic to.   If you don't know what's in it, just say NO!

2.  Too much trust on food servers.

       In both cases, the moms did ask the store associate and food server if the product they were about to get is nut free / dairy free.  That's why the plaintiffs are pointing their fingers to these people. I'm not tolerating ignorance but not everyone is well knowledgeable with the words "dairy free" and "nut free" . Some so called "experts" tend to get confused too.

      For instance, tiger nuts, peanuts, water chestnuts and coconut (though the USFDA decided it is and I don't know why) are technically not a nut even it is part of their names. Pecans and cashews are types of nuts. Unless you know your food really well, it is very easy to make a mistake.

       The same holds true to dairy. Now here's an interesting fact. The USDA classifies cream cheese, cream and butter (milk based products that have little or no calcium) as not part of the dairy group. This is shown in their website.
3. Medication and emergency protocol.

     Now, this will be the hardest to swallow especially to the parents of the 16 year old teen. He ate without any immediate access to his epinephrine. Also, the reluctance to immediately call 911.

     Did I ever forget to bring my children's epi? Yes! A few times especially after I change bags.  Did I allow them to eat? A big NO! I treat their epi as a soldier's gun. I will not go to any battle without it.
      Though I never mentioned to my children that we are not eating at the restaurant because I left the epi, I made countless excuses such as "The waiting time is too long." "The place is dirty." and the reason no one can argue about, "Mom is not feeling good right now. I really need to go home."
     Dealing with food allergies is not an easy task. As much as we want others to accommodate our children's special needs, let us not forget that we are responsible for our child's survival. We know first hand that a mistake can be fatal. That's why we have to be extra vigilant.

     I know how hard it is to see faces of longing or hearing complains of hunger.  So let me end with this message my kids' allergist always tell me every appointment.
     "2 or even 4 hours of hunger will not kill your child.  A tiny bite however, of something he/she is allergic to can."        

- Roz

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