Allergic Girl’s Death: “Everything Went Wrong”

in Food Allergy
Published: November 21, 2011

Sylvain Lefort can’t get the scene out of his mind. It is the evening of September 16, 2010. One moment, he is with other parents, sitting at a desk in a Montreal classroom as his daughter’s Grade 1 teacher reviews how the first few weeks of school have gone.

The next, he is racing down a nondescript hallway to an office where 6-year-old Megann lies, unmoving. Her skin is white and her lips, dark blue.

“There was nothing, none of that spark. She died before my eyes,” he says.

Now, more than a year after Megann Ayotte Lefort’s death, the child’s father is determined to make sure that something similar does not happen to any other child.

Lefort is angry that Quebec doesn’t have mandatory school procedures to ensure that teachers and other school staff are trained and ready to deal with asthma and anaphylaxis emergencies. And he is upset that the only party singled out in a coroner’s report about Megann’s death, which was recently released, was the Montreal fire department. (This is because there had been a failure that night to check that a piece of equipment on the fire truck – a pediatric ventilator – was working.)

For Lefort, the findings in Coroner Hél√®ne Lord’s report are not enough. To him, the decision to not even mention the school’s anaphylaxis and asthma protocols, never mind to ask for a review of the staff’s knowledge of emergency procedures and the use of life-saving tools like the epinephrine auto-injector, seems tantamount to saying that what happened was OK.

“She could have lived,” says Lefort who, in the emotional aftermath of Megann’s death lost his job a caretaker at a condo building and has been making ends meet by working at a car wash. “The school was well aware of Megann’s allergies (to dairy products) and her asthma. There was a ventilator always on hand. I’m sure there was an EpiPen. Everything about that night was wrong. Everything.”

No one disputes that his daughter had a history of severe asthma and anaphylaxis to dairy. Megann’s asthma triggers included molds, cats and cigarette smoke; when she was younger, she had been hospitalized 13 times for severe bronchospasm – as the coroner’s report notes.

Lefort says he read in the police and coroner’s reports that: his daughter had complained of chest pains in the weeks before her death and that Josée Ayotte, Megann’s mother, had chalked that up to pressure from going back to school. Megann had already had two doses of Ventolin that day for her asthma and had merely nibbled on a submarine sandwich her mom bought for her for supper before dropping her off at 6:15 p.m. at the school’s daycare.

He knows that one of the two teachers in charge at the daycare claims to have pointed out to Ayotte red blotches on Megann’s face (the suggestion is that these might be allergic hives as she came through the door). But he finds those claims, which Megann’s mother disputes, self-serving and wrong.

Around 6:20 p.m., the coroner writes that the little girl began to cry and ask for her father. Unable to calm her, the teachers sat her down with the other children to watch a movie. She began to have breathing problems and called out for her mother. Around 6:40 – 25 minutes after Megann first began to cry – the teachers gave her two doses of Ventolin from her asthma inhaler. That didn’t work. About 20 minutes later, they brought her into an office to try to calm her but that didn’t work, either.

Five minutes later – about 45 minutes after the little girl began to show signs of distress – one of the teachers went to find her parents.

“She came into the classroom and said, ‘Excuse me, but I believe your daughter isn’t breathing,’” recalls Lefort. When the couple, who have been estranged since before their daughter was born, got to the office, Ayotte tried to give her another dose of Ventolin and cried out for someone to call 911.

Firefighters were first on the scene and began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. But, as the coroner noted, their pediatric ventilator wasn’t working; although paramedics managed to revive her enough to rush her to the emergency department of a local hospital, little Megann was pronounced dead at 8:20 p.m.

Next Page: Many Questions Arise