Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lessons to Learn from Anaphylaxis Deaths

Every time I hear about another death from food allergies, I am horrified, sad and take it as another reminder to be vigilant. I just read an article about Diallo Robbins-Brinson who passed away in Atlanta this past Monday. My intent here is not to be critical. My intent is to point out what must be learned from this.

Allergies are not a fixed thing. Personally, my food allergies developed over almost a decade and within that time, some came and went a few times. Even now, in my 30s, I have some that may have disappeared and I'm careful to eat a variety of foods and never become dependant on one thing should I develop another allergy. I also know a handful of people who developed allergies in their 20s and they had no history of allergies, personal or familial. If you are allergic to anything, you unfortunately must assume that you can develop other allergies.

The other point is that in the article, it stated that according to his mother, Robbins-Brinson was "so accustomed to avoiding peanuts, Diallo no longer carried an Epi-Pen". It's pretty obvious why this horrifies me. Sorry to use that word twice, but that's what it is - horror. I am very accustomed to avoiding eggs, dairy, certain nuts and shellfish, but under no circumstances would I not carry two EpiPens with me. If I didn't have my EpiPen (I always have my EpiPen), I wouldn't eat.

Complacency and comfort are things allergic people can never afford to be. Not ever. We can never get accustomed to being safe. We're just not. We can live our lives normally and be positive and optimistic (and we should be), but no matter what, we have to be critical and be prepared for the worst.

Once again, I am not criticizing the family at all. This was an undiagnosed allergy and I can certainly understand why Robbins-Brinson did everything the way he did. I've written before about how I can feel "too safe" when I'm staying with friends and family.

What I am saying is that parents and caregivers should have frank discussions with their child's/teen's immunologist and their child/teen. For adults, being older doesn't mean you're wiser and it certainly doesn't mean you can stop an anaphylactic attack. If any doctors are reading this, you need to be a lot more frank with your patients. A little bit of fear is not a bad thing if it makes someone carry an EpiPen or wear a MedicAlert bracelet. I'll admit that a horror story about a freshman who was force-fed eggs during university initiation and suffered severe anaphylaxis was what it took for me to become so vigilant about my own health years ago.

I would love to see an awareness campaign about always carrying epinephrine auto-injectors developed by a social profit allergy organization and funded by the makers of epinephrine auto-injectors. It worked for seatbealts.

So, please learn the lessons here. Allergies change and under no circumstances should anyone with allergies or asthma be without an epinephrine auto-injector or medical bracelet. It's just not worth it.

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