The Thanksgiving of 2014 was filled with grief for two families who each lost a teenage son to anaphylaxis.
Chandler Swink, 19, a student at Oakland University in Michigan, was severely allergic to peanuts and suffered a reaction on Wednesday Nov. 19 that left him in a coma. After a week in coma and on life support, the young man was pronounced dead on Wednesday, Nov. 26.
His mother, Nancy Swink, told the Oakland Press newspaper that Chandler was visiting a friend’s apartment when someone baked peanut butter cookies – though, she was unsure if her son accidentally ate another food that had cross-contact with peanut butter or how he came to ingest some amount of the residue.
Realizing he was having a reaction, Swink says her son went out his car to inject himself with his epinephrine auto-injector. He then drove himself to the nearest hospital. However, he didn’t quite make it; Chandler was found unconscious in the parking lot of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in the early hours of Nov. 19.
Chandler’s death has left his family in grief, but impassioned about the need to educate the public about food allergies and anaphylaxis. His mother said he had faced faced some name-calling and bullying in high school because of peanut allergy accommodations at his school.
But when he went to college, “he was the happiest kid because he was no longer labeled,” Swink told the Oakland Press. Their son was a smart and popular scholarship student who had planned to enter his university’s nursing program. She said the people visiting him in hospital spoke of how generous, funny and caring Chandler was.
In addition to Chandler’s passing, a Wisconsin teenager has also died of food-related anaphylaxis. The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office says that Jaime Mendoza, 16, ate a cookie at a friend’s home in mid-October, thinking it was chocolate chip; it turned out to be peanut butter. Jaime, who had a known peanut allergy but did not carry an epinephrine auto-injector, began having breathing difficulty.
The examiner’s report says the boy then suffered cardiopulmonary arrest and his friend drove him to hospital. His circulation was restored, but Jaime suffered severe brain injury from the oxygen deprivation. His health continued to decline over several weeks, and he was removed from life support. With his family at his bedside, he died on Thanksgiving day. Before his passing, students at his school had organized a 5k run to raise funds to support the family and to raise awareness of food allergies. (Read the Oakland Press’s original article here.)
Update: A third young man, Casey Ryan, also succumbed to a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts on Nov. 30, 2014. Ryan had a known allergy to peanuts and after coming into contact with peanut oil, the 29-year-old had an anaphylactic reaction and was put into a coma. His cousin had set up a crowdfunding campaign (now closed) to help the family with funeral costs.
These dreadful tragedies remind the food allergy community of the importance of being prepared at all times in case of an accidental food exposure.
Lisa Rutter, the director of education for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team and a Michigan food allergy parent, says that as children grow up and learn to manage their allergies, there are key details to keep top of mind with regard to anaphylaxis:
- Learn to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis.
- Always carry at least two auto-injectors.
- Wear medical identification.
- Always call 911 when experiencing a severe allergic reaction.
Allergic Living’s editors additionally ask you to remind adults – of all ages – with serious allergies that anaphylaxis is swift-moving and unpredictable. “Anaphylaxis is usually a progressive reaction, so always tell someone if you think you’re having a reaction, use that auto-injector and don’t hesitate to call 911,” said Allergic Living editor Gwen Smith.