In November 2017, the tragic story of 3-year-old Elijah Silvera both broke my heart and terrified me as a mom of a child with a severe food allergy. Elijah was given a grilled cheese sandwich at his Pre-K school in Harlem, NY even though the staff there was told about his life-threatening dairy allergy. Elijah went into anaphylactic shock, and eventually died.
This poor boy and his family. His death was preventable, and now his family must grieve for him for the rest of their lives. The Department of Health closed down The 7th Avenue Center for Family Services, which is where Elijah went to school, while they investigated the incident.
Too many kids are dying from food allergies. I follow these stories closely due to my son’s and my own severe food allergies, so I know that they are very real, and happening too often. I will never forget these children; I will always carry them with me. Food allergies are not a joke or a fad; they are claiming lives.
Every time I hear about a death due to food allergies, I shed a tear, I get very anxious, I share the story, and I pray such a fate won’t await my son or me.
This is what we fear, this is why we cry, this is why we fight.
Many people don’t seem to be getting the message that food allergies can be deadly. Many people don’t realize that, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), someone is being rushed to the emergency room every three minutes due to a food allergy reaction. Many people are either uninformed or do not care. They don’t want to be told what to do or what to eat. Many don’t care that children are dying from this hidden disability.
I hear and see people’s callous remarks all the time. Remarks like, “Who are you to tell me what to feed my child?” Or “Are you going to try to ban every food at the school party?” Or “Why don’t you home-school your child.” Or “Why don’t you avoid restaurants and just eat every meal at home?” And the list goes on. The list that makes my blood boil. How can anyone be so cruel and inhumane? How can anyone not care that their actions or apathy can help lead to the death of a child?
Being the parent of a young child with food allergies is a difficult, full-time job. One with no breaks, no room for error. Every parent makes mistakes, but if I let down my guard and make one — it could kill my child. My precious son, who will always be my baby.
That reality is very hard to live with, but I do the best that I can to keep focused and to keep my son safe. I try to educate him and those around him as much as possible. I try to spread awareness through my website and social media.
I will do whatever I can to keep my kids and their friends safe. Their happiness and security is what is most important. If I have to make some changes, remove some foods, or wash my hands more due to an immune-compromised child I will.
Whatever it takes.
That’s what good friends, neighbors, and communities do.
That’s what we all should do. Without the rolled eyes, snarky comments and selfish behavior.
If a child needs some extra help, let’s help them. If a child needs some food/clothes, let’s chip in and buy them. If a child cannot be near a certain food, let’s remove it and/or keep it away from them and take the necessary precautions, such as hand-washing.
Let us be open to food allergy awareness and educate ourselves as to how to protect the one out of thirteen kids with food allergies. Learn the signs of a reaction, learn how to use an epinephrine auto-injector, learn how to be part of a team involved in keeping a child thriving.
It is good that the media is covering such heartbreaking stories. Maybe it will open a few people’s eyes. Maybe they will realize that their ignorance, nasty comments or actions can make them complicit in a young child’s death.
There is a long way to go though. Food allergies seem to be the one disability that it is still okay to make fun of. Many comedians and TV shows think it’s hysterical to see someone going into anaphylactic shock. As someone who went through it and almost died, I can tell you that it is not. Face swelling, rapid heartbeat, tongue swelling to the point of not being able to take a breath is not fun. It is terrifying and will haunt me, and the millions who go through it, for the rest of our lives.
So please stop joking about food allergies. Educate yourselves and others, spread food allergy awareness with your platforms. Believe a mom who tells you that a nut or other food can kill her child just as sure and quickly as poison.
And do something to help, not hurt those with food allergies.
I keep dreaming of the day where people don’t roll their eyes when they hear about a child like my son having food allergies. Where they selflessly offer to do something to help keep them unharmed out of sincere kindness/concern. Where they don’t think my son’s condition is a punchline.
It only takes a few small steps/changes to make a difference in the lives of children who have food allergies, and you may even help save them. You may even help prevent them from being bullied or excluded.
Our world needs compassion now more than ever.
Help those in need. Help those with disabilities or life-threatening conditions.
Help prevent the next tragedy by teaching empathy to your children, and by practicing it yourself.