Every school day around 12: 30 p.m. I make a wish:
Please let my daughter get through lunch without having an allergic reaction.
So far, the wishing, along with careful lunch-packing and educating teachers and lunch monitors, is working. But the thousands of parents in Quebec like me whose children have life-threatening allergies to common foods like wheat, milk, peanuts and eggs shouldn’t have to rely on magical thinking to ensure kids make it through another day safely.
That’s why I support a campaign by allergy associations and Allergic Living magazine to have Quebec adopt a law like Sabrina’s Law, in place in Ontario since 2006.
Under Sabrina’s Law, all school employees must have regular training in dealing with life-threatening allergies; there must be individual treatment plans in place in schools for each allergic child; and schools must have emergency procedures in place.
The law is named for 13-year-old Sabrina Shannon of Pembroke, Ont., who died in 2003 after having an anaphylactic allergic reaction to french fries she had eaten at her school cafeteria.
The push for a Sabrina’s Law in Quebec comes after the death last year of 6-year-old Megann Ayotte Lefort at her Rivière des Prairies school.
Reading the coroner’s report into Megann’s death made me feel sick.
Megann, who was asthmatic and allergic to dairy products, was at school on Sept. 16 with her parents for meetthe-teacher night. she had eaten a submarine sandwich from a restaurant before her mother dropped her off at the school daycare around 6: 15 p.m.
Two daycare employees were taking care of Megann and 25 other kids that evening. after about five minutes, Megann began crying.
Around 6: 40 one employee gave her two puffs of her asthma medication because she was having difficulty breathing. Twenty minutes later, with no improvement in her breathing and Megann complaining of being itchy, they took her to the school office and went to get her parents.
Paramedics revived her and rushed her to hospital by ambulance, but Megann died around 8: 20 p.m.
As the parent of an allergic child, I was disturbed to read about the reaction of the school staff. either they didn’t understand or didn’t take seriously Megann’s symptoms until it was too late.
“Get an EpiPen and don’t be afraid to use it” was one of the first things our allergist told us when our child was diagnosed with food allergies as a toddler. The dose of epinephrine in an EpiPen can save an allergic child’s life.
My child attends a Montreal school that’s part of a school board with an allergy policy. But for the past four years, I have had to explain and re-explain to teachers, daycare educators and school secretaries what to do in case she has a reaction. Every August, I write up a one-page information sheet. It includes a photo of my daughter and explains what she’s allergic to, how to recognize the symptoms of a reaction, and to call 911 and give her medication if she has any symptoms.
I meet with her teacher and lunch staff to go over this every year to make sure the adults who are in charge of her seven hours a day, five days a week, know what to do if she has a reaction.
Last week, after reading the coroner’s report into Megann’s death, I went back to school to check her medication expiration dates and make sure her lunch monitors know how to use an EpiPen. I wasn’t reassured to meet a new secretary who didn’t know where the children’s EpiPens are kept at school. The fact I visited that day means that she knows now.
Still, it shouldn’t take a nervous parent stopping in to make sure school staff knows who the allergic children are and where their medications are stored.
An estimated 72,000 Quebec kids have food allergies. and they’re not just allergic to peanuts. I’ve met kids who are allergic to chocolate, to mustard and to strawberries. If they eat the wrong thing, and their tongues get itchy, or they start sneezing and having trouble breathing, they might not be able to tell their teacher they’re having a life-threatening allergic reaction and require an EpiPen injection.
When my daughter has an allergic reaction, she starts to have problems breathing, complains of a stomach ache and often gets hives on her skin. we know that means she’s having a reaction, but someone who isn’t familiar with food allergies might not realize that.
Quebec needs a Sabrina’s Law to make sure that the people who are supposed to protect allergic children when they’re at school know how to recognize an allergic reaction and deal with it before it is too late.
Monique Beaudin is a reporter at The Gazette. Information about the petition for an anaphylaxis law for Quebec schools is at allergicliving.com/petitions/ quebec-schools.
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