The prevalence of preventable life-threatening allergic reactions in schools and daycare centers is staggering; according to the Food Allergy Research & Education Foundation, nearly 6 million children have food allergies, and those with associated anaphylaxis are on the rise. According to a 2013 study1 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased by almost 50% between 1997 and 2011. While the economic cost of children’s food allergies runs at nearly $25 billion each year2, there are other costs that are much more devastating – such as when a child loses his life following an anaphylactic reaction.
Elijah was happily playing at his preschool in New York City in early November of 2017 when it was time to eat; he was given a grilled cheese sandwich by an adult at his school, despite the fact that it was well documented that Elijah had a severe allergy to dairy. The staff was aware of the allergy. Tragically, Elijah went into anaphylactic shock and had to be taken to the pediatric emergency room at Harlem Hospital. The story comes to a devastating end when despite their best efforts, hospital staff members were unable to save the beautiful little three-year-old.
Elijah left behind his parents and a five-year-old brother, along with many friends and family members. While the emotional, physical, and mental toll of losing a child to a completely preventable complication is catastrophic in itself, the financial toll has just begun to mount for his family.
The Cost of Children’s Food Allergies
Elijah’s family faces costs that include more than just the emotional anguish of coming home to a quiet apartment each day, seeing his photos on the walls, and glancing at his toys that will no longer be played with. The family faces the cost of an independent autopsy, financial strain due to time off of work, funeral and memorial expenses, and more.
The family does have a GoFundMe page that was set up by two close family members to help defray costs. Of course, no matter how much money is raised for Elijah’s family and other families that have faced similar losses of children to allergic reactions, it will never bring these children back to their families. It will never heal the hearts of those left behind, especially siblings like Elijah’s five-year-old brother, who cannot understand why his brother is gone or why he cannot take a rocket ship to heaven to visit, as he wants to.
Preventing the Preventable
Sadly, there is currently no cure for food allergies; although there are many therapies under study, none are available yet for routine use. To prevent serious health consequences, strict avoidance of food allergens and early management of the reactions children have to food are critical. Prompt administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) within minutes is absolutely vital to save lives.
Elijah’s parents are now advocates for children like their son; his father, a surgical technician and AORN Ambassador, utilizes his Instagram page to help relay information about the family’s story and Elijah’s heartbreaking story. Using their pained voices to draw attention to these preventable tragedies and pushing for ways to bring them to an end, his mother and father bring a strong voice to the fight against underestimated childhood allergies.
1Jackson K et al. Trends in Allergic Conditions among Children: United States, 1997-2011. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db121.htm
2Gupta R, et al. The high economic burden of childhood food allergy in the United States. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol, 2012; 109: A1-A162