As an allergist I look daily into the frightened faces of parents as they tell me stories of how their children experienced their first life-threatening allergic reaction. The parents tell me about sleepless nights from the nightmares of seeing their children slip away from anaphylaxis.
They read online about a young Arizona teenager, with peanut allergy, who had been happy and healthy until she ate a cereal containing peanut. She is now only able to communicate by blinking her eyes.
I teach them about epinephrine, the first line medication for use in anaphylaxis. Studies have shown repeatedly that the delay in using epinephrine is directly related to recovery from an allergic reaction. It literally can mean the difference between life and death.
Some parents experience relief and empowerment through education and a plan, but they still worry. Their biggest fear is what could happen at school.
We are seeing an increase in food allergy in schools. There are an estimated two children in every classroom who live with this daily risk, and approximately 18 percent of these children have had an accidental exposure while at school. Hopefully, they might already have an epinephrine auto-injector and an allergy action plan available to them for use.
However, 25 percent of the food reactions in schools occur with a previously unidentified allergy. These children would not have epinephrine for immediate use.
A bill passed in Virginia, introduced because of a tragic death of a 7-year-old little girl, has helped schools protect children by allowing them to stock epinephrine auto-injectors for emergency use. It has already saved three young lives by allowing staff to identify and treat anaphylaxis. One was a boy who was stung by a bee on the bus ride home from school. He required two doses to ber stabilized before paramedics arrived.
This year legislators can help protect schoolchildren by voting yes on SB 1421. The bill will allow Arizona schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors for use during emergency situations.
SB 1421makes tremendous sense. It is simple and has the potential to save lives. It accounts for training of school personnel on how to recognize an allergic reaction, and how to use the auto-injector. It includes a "Good Samaritan" provision, freeing school personnel to focus on doing what is right for the child.
As a physician and mother, I support the passage of SB 1421 because losing one child to an allergic episode would be one too many. The issue has united Republicans and Democrats, as the bill was introduced by supporters are from both sides of the aisle. These include Sens. Linda Lopez, David Bradley, Leah Landrum Taylor, Judy Burges, Jack Jackson Jr., Al Melvin and Kelli Ward, as well as Reps. Doris Goodale, Phil Lovas and Ethan Orr.
As the bill is advancing through the Arizona Legislature, please call your legislators (1-800-352-8404) and tell them to support SB 1421. You can play a role in improving access to medication and decreasing the chances of disability and even death from food-induced allergic reactions or unforeseen life-threatening reactions to insect stings among all Arizona students.
Heather R. Cassell, M.D., is a Tucson-based allergist and a medical advisory board member of the Arizona Food Allergy Alliance.