School Nurse Delays Teen From Using EpiPen After Major Allergic Reaction To Peanuts

by Jerriann Sullivan
Nurse Delayed Teen From Using EpiPen
Images via Shutterstock / Handout.

Nurse delayed teen from using EpiPen in favor of other medicine

A teen girl experienced a horrific event when her school nurse delayed her access to an EpiPen in the middle of a life-threatening allergic reaction. A trained medical professional elongated a terrifying experience for a child, and what’s worse is that no one can say why the nightmare happened.

Lia Sommer ate a turkey sandwich with pesto from the cafeteria at John Hersey High School in Illinois last month. The 15-year-old has a severe allergy to peanuts. Lia has dealt with a peanut allergy her entire life, and had already asked the cafeteria staff if their food had peanuts in it. They told her no, but when the teen grabbed her lunch that day the staff had substituted pine nuts in the pesto for peanuts. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, when someone with Lia’s allergy is exposed they need epinephrine to avoid “a sudden and severe allergic reaction that may cause death.”

The teen knew immediately she had been exposed to peanuts and went straight to the nurse’s office. It was there that the person most in charge of our kids’ health while they’re at school completely failed. In a letter she wrote then read aloud to the Township High School District 214 Board of Education, Lia’s mom, Lonnie Joy Sommer, said: “the nurse on staff allegedly advised Lia to take an antihistamine, Benadryl. Lia refused, knowing from previous experience that her symptoms would be masked by the antihistamine, though the anaphylactic reaction would not be halted, and would continue to silently and dangerously escalate undetected,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

If you’ve never met one, kids who have severe allergies almost always 1. know that they have them and 2. exactly what to do during an allergic reaction. The nurse should have absolutely listened to the girl that stood in her office that day. What makes this situation even more terrible is that the school had a file on Lia’s allergy. “Instead of following Lia’s Allergy and Anaphylaxis Plan on file in the health office, which clearly states, ‘Give EpiPen First!’ the nurse opted to have her call me to confirm before administering epinephrine, with my daughter’s life held in the balance,” Sommer told the school district.

Once on the phone with the nurse, her mom asked if her daughter had been given the EpiPen and if 911 had been called. The nurse had done neither. “I was shocked that a trained medical professional was either unaware of the most up-to-date protocol for anaphylaxis, or unwilling to follow it,” the mom explained. “I told her administer the EpiPen and call 911 immediately.” Sadly, even after the school called 911 the stress compiled when school officials sent Lia to the hospital alone.

“It is ludicrous that a minor would be sent alone to a hospital during school hours with no personnel to represent her,” her mom shared. “I am horrified and saddened by the complete lack of common sense and compassion that predicated this decision.” It’s unclear what responsibility school administrators have when a student needs to go to the emergency room, but in such a life-threatening situation wouldn’t we all want someone to be with our child?

We were in middle school when we learned how to use an EpiPen. My brother and I don’t have any allergies, but our best friend’s allergy to milk and peanuts was so severe that her mom taught us how to use the medical device in case we needed to inject the critical medicine. Thankfully we never had to use it, but if we, as a society, can train our kids to know the value of an EpiPen then surely our medical professionals should be held to the same standard.

“The district sincerely apologizes for our mistakes. Student safety is always of the utmost importance, and we are working with the family to remedy the situation,” school district spokeswoman Jennifer Delgado told reporters. The school district agreed to cover Lia’s medical bills from the incident. The nurse who delayed Lia’s access to the EpiPen is still employed with the school district.