Emma Pfouts may only be 100 pounds and five feet tall, but the 16-year-old is a fighter, say her mother and stepdad. The Ohio teen is in a medically induced coma after suffering a severe anaphylactic reaction and asthma attack at her homecoming dance on Oct. 19, 2019.
The teen, a popular cheerleader with a ready smile, was at the big dance at Norton High School in northeast Ohio when she experienced anaphylaxis, had trouble breathing and collapsed. She suffered neurological damage from the severe reaction, and remains in a comatose state, fighting for her life.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better kid,” Christina Weigand told Allergic Living. “She has been loving, kind and such an outgoing goofball. She would do anything to make you laugh.”
Christina and Emma’s stepdad Christopher Weigand said she’s become “the community’s daughter” through all the love and support she’s received in the local community and across the nation, through social media. They are touched by the outpouring of support.
At the Homecoming Dance
Before the dance, Christina says her daughter ate at an Olive Garden with a friend and informed the restaurant twice about her chicken and egg allergy.
“She left from there and went to the dance. There was no food at the dance,” said Christina. The family is unsure what Emma ate that night that led to what appeared to be a severe allergic reaction.
Her asthma and allergies to chicken and egg have always been manageable, said her mother. She had never needed to use an epinephrine auto-injector.
At the dance, Emma told her friend she wasn’t feeling well and was getting hot. Christina heard from several students that the dance was very warm and crowded. Research has shown that, with some individuals, heat and physical activity can be co-factors that amplify a food-allergic reaction.
Christina says her daughter always carries her inhaler and epinephrine auto-injector in her purse. She had left her purse inside her car to go into the dance. As she experienced trouble breathing, Emma asked the principal and police officer for permission to go outside to get her inhaler.
“The police officer walked her to the end of the sidewalk, saw her grab her inhaler from her car and use it,” described Christina. “The police officer’s mother has asthma so he said he recognized the signs that she was going to go down.” Emma collapsed and the ambulance was called.
Trouble in the Ambulance
The Weigands live less than a mile from Norton High School. When they got the call from school that their daughter was having trouble breathing, Christopher, who is a nurse, grabbed her nebulizer while Christina started the car.
“As we were coming down the driveway of the school, there was the EMS behind us,” said Christina. “We were surprised because it didn’t seem like it was severe over the phone.” When the Weigands arrived, Emma was slumped over in a chair, and was unresponsive.
In the ambulance, Emma was put in a respiratory bag and given epinephrine on the way to the hospital. But on the ride, “she went into cardiac arrest twice in the ambulance,” said Christina. Paramedics tried to intubate her, but her air passage was blocked. She went without oxygen for about 10 minutes.
Emma was transferred from the local hospital to Akron Children’s Hospital once her condition was stable enough.
Outpouring of Support
On Oct. 30, the doctors attempted to wake Emma from her coma, but she was having breathing issues, which halted the process. And on Oct. 31, the same attempt was made, but doctors say she has bowel obstruction and may need surgery.
“How much more can this kid take? She’s a fighter, she’s hanging in there and she’s doing everything she can to get back to us, and that’s all we can really ask for,” said Christina.
Emma’s older sister, Kylie, has been by her bedside, “reading cards to her and telling her to stay strong,” said Christina. Her 14-year-old twin brothers attend Norton High, which has “watched over them” while the rest of the family has been by Emma’s side.
“The school has been amazing. The whole community, too,” said Christina. “We are truly blessed. Emma is becoming the community’s daughter. They are rallying behind her and we need their prayers. They are the ones that got her this far.”
A GoFundMe page to cover medical expenses has raised over $17,000 to date. [Update Nov. 3: it’s now over $26,000, which the family will really need for the bills.]
The school is holding a special “We Roar with Emma” celebration ahead of the last football game of the season on Friday Nov. 1. The Weigands are attending to thank everyone in the community.
The school was also selling “We Roar with Emma” T-shirts with all proceeds going to the family. “We can’t thank everyone enough for their support,” Christina said.