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Mother of allergy-shock victim to politicians: "Emma's death was so avoidable"

An Oireachtas committee heard this evening calls for the widespread availability of epipens and increased awareness of fatal allergies.

THE MOTHER OF a 14-year-old who died from an allergic reaction as she had no access to an Epipen has told an Oireachtas committee of the need for legislatory change to prevent similar avoidable deaths in future.

Epinephrine or adrenaline auto-injectors, commonly known by the brand name of Epipen, are used in cases of anaphylactic shock.

When Caroline Sloan’s daughter, Emma, suffered a fatal allergic reaction in Dublin city centre after accidentally eating satay sauce, her mother was unable get an Epipen from a chemist as it was not for use on her.

“Emma’s death was so avoidable,” she told the committee.

“Had we had the correct information and education on her allergy, and access to an epipen, she would be with us today.”

“She was so looking forward to Christmas,” she said, “All her presents are still wrapped in their boxes in a press.”

“I only ever spent one Christmas with all three of my children.”

She has since perused a campaign to have epipens “in every first aid box”, noting that very little training is required to use them, and for people with allergies to carry ID or bracelets for use in the event of seizure.

She today voiced this at the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Committee.

image02 From left to right - Caroline Sloan, junior counsel Yvonne Moynihan, and Dr Michael Byrne Source: Oireachtas.ie

Junior Counsel Yvonne Moynihan told the committee that an important part of any legislation would be the scope of a liability to allow anyone “acting in good faith” to administer an Epipen without fear of any legal repercussions.

She outlined a case in the United States where a child died as a result of an allergic reaction after a fellow student’s Epipen was not used on her.

Employees in the school were prohibited from using an epipen prescribed for one student on another. The child was rushed to hospital where she was pronounced dead, the New York Times reports.

Ireland could become a “world leader” in the area of widespread availability of Epipens, she said, if comprehensive legislation was introduced.

The situation has been addressed in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to varying degrees.

She noted that it should include a requirement for schools, restaurants, and other establishments to stock an epipen, with mandatory health plans training for staff put in place.

Epi Pen File photo of an epinephrine auto-injector. Source: Vu What When via Flickr/Creative Commons

Physicians warned that there is a lack of awareness, and lack of thorough diagnosis, of severe allergies.

Professor Jonathan Hourihane from the Paediatrics & Child Health department in Cork University Hospital, who specialises in paediatric food allergy and anaphylaxis, highlighted the lack of allergy centres in Ireland, noting long waiting lists at his own Department.

This shortage of allergists in Ireland was described as ‘hardly surprising’ by Senator John Crowne – “Ireland is bottom of the league table for everything, every specialist you care to mention”.

Hourihane said that many families he has met has said they feel like they are “followed around by grim reaper”.

[They fear] that the reaper will take their child if they make the tinniest mistake with their food.

“Another unfortunate death is inevitable,” he warned.

Caroline Sloan had told the committee that “if Emma had been referred to a specialist and been given the results of her tests and an allergy management plan, she would be alive today”. She also noted although it was known that her daughter had a peanut allergy, it was not known that it could be fatal.

Hourihane also referenced existing legislation in the United States, which he said was brought in by President Barack Obama due to his own experience with his daughter’s nut allergy, and that when the family visited Dalkey in 2011 that precautions were put in place “that we don’t think are worthy for other children.”

Dr Michael Byrne from UCC’s Student Health Department said that many do not like to disclose their allergies.

“In four years, despite regularly prompting and encouraging self declaration and origination,” he said,

I haven’t had a single student who came forward of an existing food allergy so that I could compile a risk assessment.

Byrne cited a fear of ‘not wanting to stand out in any way’.

Some committee members said potential legislation to allow for the widespread availability of Epipens should be raised with the Minister for Health as a matter of urgency, with Senator Crowne noting that it would be a very straight-forward process.

Read: Tragic death inspires push to get lifesaving EpiPens in public places >

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Nicky Ryan

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