I am a mother of two children who have multiple food allergies. My older son has life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and dairy. My younger son has such an extensive allergy list he can safely eat only 10 to 15 foods.
A few months ago, Rep. Stanley Short Jr., D-Pittsfield, contacted me and other concerned parents who deal with food allergies on a regular basis. He asked for our insight in drafting legislation to provide greater access to epinephrine, a life-saving drug that counteracts the effects of food allergies.
He was genuinely compassionate about the risks and fears that we as parents face in managing our children’s allergies, when exposure to an allergen can result in anaphylaxis, brain damage, coma or death.
Short is an ally, and it is good to know that the leaders and elected officials in our schools and our state government see the logic and value in having medication that may prevent a tragedy.
Currently, the Legislature is considering L.D. 1727, “An Act to Establish Guidelines for the Stocking of Epinephrine in Schools,” a bill sponsored by Rep. Matthew Peterson, D-Rumford.
While my kids carry their autoinjectors with them at all times, they might lose them or one might malfunction. At this time, schools do not carry or administer epinephrine and can use an autoinjector on a student only if it is prescribed to them.
One in 13 children has a food allergy, approximately two children in every classroom, in every school. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25 percent of anaphylactic reactions occurring in schools happened to individuals with no previous food allergy diagnosis.
Additionally, the New England Journal of Medicine has indicated that four out of six deaths from food allergy anaphylaxis occur in schools and were associated with significant delay in treating reactions with epinephrine.
We are talking about mere minutes making the difference between the life and death of a child.
In order to be successful, epinephrine must be administered within seven to 15 minutes. For the child suffering an anaphylactic reaction, it can best be described as lying at the bottom of a pool, waiting for someone to jump in and rescue them.
Passing this bill would protect those suffering from anaphylaxis because of allergies from foods, latex or insect stings or induced by exercise.
In the face of more than 2 million school-aged children in the United States suffering from food allergies, it is important to note that these are ever-growing numbers, and many food allergies go unreported.
I am pleased that Maine is not waiting for tragedy to strike to take action and to address the dire need for epinephrine in schools. I understand that concerns may raised about licensed professionals administering epinephrine injections, but I can assure you, parents and patients administer epinephrine every day across the country.
I weep when I read about the death of a child from anaphylaxis; there were 16 lives lost last year alone. Eighty-eight percent of the deaths show significant delays or failure to administer epinephrine.
I do not want the burden of a child’s death in our schools to be what launches us into action. We buy smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and vehicles with seat belts and airbags, all with the hope we will never need them. But isn’t it nice to know they are there when we do?
I want Maine to experience the feeling of having made a huge difference, preventing a tragedy, and saving a life by passing this legislation. Imagine if a child had an anaphylatic reaction and his or her own injector malfunctioned? This bill could save the life of that child by allowing a school to keep its own epinephrine autoinjector on hand, for teachers trained in its use in the event of an emergency.
Jenny Sprague, of New Gloucester, is the founder of the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, school board member and stay-at-home mother of two boys with life threatening food allergies. For more information, visit www.MultipleFoodAllergyHelp.com, www.FABlogCon.com.