Stories About Food Allergy Deaths Spread Awareness, Heartbreak

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In October, a 16-year-old Wisconsin student died after mistaking a peanut butter cookie for a chocolate chip cookie.

In November, a 19-year-old Michigan student went into anaphylactic shock while experiencing an asthma attack and cardiac arrest after a coming in contact with a peanut product.

Less than two weeks ago, a 24-year-old Vermont man died after coming into contact with an undisclosed allergen.

Stories about food allergy deaths are difficult to read, especially for families who are dealing with food allergies of their own. But they also raise awareness and remind the world that they’re not something that can be brushed off. Does the benefit of sharing these stories outweigh the emotional pain they cause families dealing with food allergies? Or does the stress associated with hearing these stories cause more damage?

food allergy deathsOriginal photo credit

The other day, AllergyEats asked their 10,000+ Facebook followers if they preferred to hear about food allergy fatalities, or if they would rather not.

Commenters responded passionately, and many of them were in support of these stories being told:

  • If it were my child, I would want the story retold and shared as much as possible in the hopes that their death might help save another child’s life or open the mind of a person or restaurant to understand the seriousness of it all. I would want and hope for some small amount of positive impact from the tragedy.
  • However saddened I am from these stories, I believe the awareness needs to be there. Too many people do not understand the reality of this. It gets dismissed [and] pushed under the rug. I have found the majority of our society does not understand the lethal consequences of these allergies.
  • Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to food allergies; it is fatal. Hearing about the food allergy fatalities serves as a tragic reminder to never get too comfortable in our routine, to always remain diligent in reading labels and asking questions at restaurants.

Other readers responded that they found it too painful to hear about these tragedies, and preferred that AllergyEats not share the articles:

  • Actually I unfollowed a group because I can’t read about a fatality a week. Thanks for asking. I have enough stress without that.
  • I prefer to not hear stories. We know the worst possible outcome, no need to remind us!

Some commenters said they felt conflicted, saying they understood the importance of publicizing the tragedies but find them incredibly difficult to read:

  • As a parent, I want to have it in the press, it is the only way that people keep in mind how serious it is. It is also a reminder to my teen that, although her reaction was way back in kindergarten, it could happen. I have looked that monster in the face, I don’t like thinking that I might have to face it again. At the same time, being reminded that she could die everytime she leaves the house, is hard. It is very sobering and hard.
  • I have mixed feelings about it. I want to learn from the experience of others, but I would like it if the articles were not published until there is enough information to know what really happened. Like, did the person use their EpiPen soon enough or at all? When it is an article [without] details, it just feeds my fear even more, [as I] try to imagine why it ended in death.
  • I am mixed on this. It gives me a panic attack, but it also provides lessons that might help us.

Food allergy advocate Sloan Miller has suffered from anaphylactic reactions herself, and says these stories are certainly hard to hear. But she adds that they are also “an awful reminder of just how vital an emergency allergy action plan can be.”

Tell us: Do you prefer to hear stories about food allergy deaths, or would you rather not hear them?

Heather Laura Clarke, a contributing writer at Scratch or Sniff, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her high-school sweetheart husband, seven-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter. She writes for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S., and blogs about her family life at Heather's Handmade Life. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram.

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