The concerning news began on Dec. 17 when Bethenny Frankel, the entrepreneur and reality TV star, Tweeted that she’d had an anaphylactic reaction to accidental exposure to fish in a soup she’d eaten. She spoke of falling unconscious, extremely low blood pressure and wrote: “I couldn’t talk, see, thought I had a stroke and was dying.”
Frankel’s harrowing experience was soon followed by tragedy.
On January 2, the father of 11-year-old Cameron Jean-Pierre came forward to reveal a New Year’s Day tragedy: his son had died of what appeared to be an airborne fish reaction during a visit to a relative’s home in New York City.
Fish Led to Tragedy
Steven Jean-Pierre of New Jersey told news media that Cameron, who also had asthma and peanut allergy, was quickly overcome by fumes from cooking fish when they entered his grandmother’s Brooklyn home. He told the New York Post that this triggered Cameron’s asthma, so he tried to use the boy’s portable nebulizer to deliver asthma medication to his child’s lungs, but to no avail.
While people in the food allergy community expressed sympathy for the devastated Jean-Pierre and his wife, there was also heightened tension in social media as parents wondered how such an airborne reaction could turn fatal, and what risks were for others with food allergies.
The precise cause of Cameron’s death is still being examined by the New York City medical examiner. “We would fully expect the coroner’s report will end up identifying this as a death from asthma induced by an airborne allergen,” Dr. Robert Wood, the president of the AAAAI allergists’ association, told The New York Times.
He and other experts explained that such a reaction would not be from the smell of fish, but rather the aerosolization of allergenic fish proteins. In this Allergic Living post, New York allergist Dr. Scott Sicherer explains that the likelihood of such a reaction would depend on two things: the amount of protein that gets into the air and the sensitivity of the individual, including the presence of asthma.
In expressing sympathy for Cameron’s family on Twitter, Dr. James R. Baker, director of the University of Michigan’s food allergy center, stressed the last point. “Reminds us all that asthma is an important risk factor for death with food allergy,” he wrote.
Life Support Drama and Airline Issues
Jan. 4 also brought Frankel back in the news, along with the issue of airline readiness for travelers with food allergies. Bethenny Frankel, who was flying south for a vacation scant weeks after her near-fatal reaction, said on Twitter that she contacted the airline she was flying multiple times to warn of her fish allergy and request that fish not be served. Yet when she boarded, the crew was gearing up to dish out meals with a bass entrée to her whole cabin.
At first, she was told “they couldn’t not serve it.” But ultimately, the pilot announced the food wouldn’t be served. Still Frankel faced public backlash over her request, with some people suggesting she should take a private plane or stay home.
In an article about Frankel’s flying situation and the backlash she faced, Lianne Mandelbaum of the No Nut Traveler website noted that food allergies are of greater concern in an airplane than on land. “You are trapped in a metal tube where you do not have immediate access to medical care,” Mandelbaum said.
If there is any solace to be had in an anxiety-provoking arrival to the New Year, it is the fact that Frankel brings needed profile to the food allergy cause. She says she plans to be vocal about education and make it one of her causes. This includes airline accommodation, a subject Allergic Living magazine will also soon revisit.
As Cameron’s death and Chloe’s desperate situation show, there is still so much need to educate the public to give this disease the serious attention, research and funding it deserves. Let’s aim to work together in 2019 to bring greater understanding of a disease to protect and prevent tragedy.
Community Takeaways and Resources
1. Be prepared. Important factors related to preventing food allergy severe or fatal reactions are:
– using epinephrine as the treatment in any severe reaction
– using your epinephrine promptly.
– keeping your asthma in control. If your asthma action plan needs an update, see your allergist or health-care provider.
– Always reading packaged food labels, plus checking with manufacturers if it is unclear if a food contains your allergen.
2. Food allergy anxiety. If news reports are heightening your/your child’s anxiety, you may find these articles helpful:
– Nurse Susan Heim Kelly’s Finding Balance after Latest Tragedy News
– Parenting Coach Gina Clowes’ 7 Tips for Food Allergy Fears
– Cognitive behavioral therapy for food allergies
3. Airline travel. Before booking, find details of airline allergy policies in our extensive Airlines and Allergy Policies Directory.
– If you experience an allergy-related incident with an airline, share it with the NoNutTraveler.com website. Incidents that are captured often help in discussions with airlines.