Thomas and Dina Silvera held a “bittersweet” celebration on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in honor of Elijah’s Law becoming New York State legislation with the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo a day earlier.
The law, the first of its kind in the United States, will require all daycare programs to implement guidelines to prevent, recognize and respond to anaphylactic reactions.
“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to create change,” Thomas Silvera told a gathering of supporters and media at Jackie Robinson Park in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of New York City. “Elijah, he did not die in vain. His echo and his words, rang through each and every one of us.”
Through tears, Dina Silvera told those gathered: “I really wanted to make sure that no parent has to worry about putting a child in a facility that’s not safe for them.”
Elijah’s Law is named for the Silveras’ younger son, Elijah-Alavi Silvera, who died of anaphylaxis in November 2017 after a New York City preschool employee fed him a grilled cheese sandwich, despite the daycare having documentation of the child’s severe dairy allergy and asthma.
Staff at the preschool, which has closed, also failed to: call 911, administer epinephrine, or even inform his mother that her son had eaten cheese.
A Family’s Lobby to Help Protect Children With Food Allergies
Since the loss of their son in 2017, the Silveras have worked tirelessly to advocate for Elijah’s Law. “It is bittersweet,” Thomas Silvera says of seeing the bill officially become law. “Not just for me, but for everyone who has been through it with us.”
Among those at Jackie Robinson Park, where a tree is planted in Elijah’s honor, were the sponsors of Elijah’s Law in the New York Assembly and Senate, Assembly member Al Taylor and Senator Brian Benjamin.
Taylor credited the Silveras for educating him and fellow lawmakers about food allergy issues that needed to be addressed at the preschool level. Then he said with passion: “I’m telling you, I am just overwhelmed, I’m excited. But the tears are hard to hold because it took the life of Elijah for this to happen in the state of New York. No child should have to die because of negligence.”
Taylor said to the Silveras: “You guys have taught me how to be strong …. When you could have stayed home, when you could have been stuck in your sorrow, you said – ‘No, not on my watch, not in this community, not in this state.’“
Before the event, Thomas Silvera told Allergic Living that “with Governor Cuomo’s signature, this law will set a precedent.” He and his wife “wanted to make sure these guidelines were clear and simple, so schools could adapt them immediately,”
Elijah’s Law requires the Health Commissioner to establish for daycare providers guidelines for the prevention of and response to anaphylaxis. To protect children with food allergies, these protocols will include training courses for responding to anaphylaxis, guidelines for developing individualized emergency health-care plans, communication and treatment plans, plus allergen risk-reduction strategies.
Aiming for National Approach
Silvera told Allergic Living he now plans to advocate for Elijah’s Law protections at the federal level. He knows it will take a lot of work, but he already has meetings set up with legislators to talk about next steps.
“We aren’t only doing it for my son Elijah. We’re doing it for my other son Sebastin, and for every child with a food allergy,” he said.
Cuomo said in a press release on Sept. 12 that he was proud to sign the New York bill “that will give parents peace of mind and will help ensure daycare workers receive the right training to respond to emergencies and prevent tragedies.”
“As a father, I know there is no greater fear than something happening to your child – especially when you entrust them to someone else’s care,” he said.
The Silveras and their Elijah-Alavi Foundation have received an outpouring of support, from the food allergy community on social media to lawmakers and organizations who helped to move forward the legislation.
“It’s amazing and so heartfelt,” Silvera said. “I attribute the success of this law to everyone who has been involved. We couldn’t have gotten this far without the help of the community.”