OCEAN CITY – Parents of children with known allergies, as well as unknown allergies, have had a weight lifted off of their shoulders now that schools in Maryland are required to have the proper medication and training on hand in case of an allergic reaction.
Last Tuesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley enacted a new law requiring schools to keep an emergency supply of epinephrine on hand for students who may be having a life-threatening allergic reaction.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), epinephrine slows down the effects of an allergic reaction, buying critical time to get a patient to the hospital.
In the past, Maryland schools were only allowed to administer epinephrine to students who had a prescription for the medication. However, allergies can develop at any time, and 25 percent of reactions that take place at school happen to students who had not previously been diagnosed with an allergy.
AAFA furthered that childhood food allergies are becoming increasingly common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an 18 percent increase in food allergies among school-aged children from 1997 to 2007, and it is estimated to affect approximately one in 25 children in this age group.
Following a young girl’s death from an allergic reaction, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill requiring schools to stock emergency epinephrine and allowing trained employees to administer it to students having an allergic reaction but who don’t have a prescribed dose on hand at the school.
The new law in Maryland also came about when an incident happened to a Worcester County student, Lilliana Franklin, just last year.
Lilliana’s parents, Michael and Marianne Franklin of Berlin, passed the story on of what their family had experienced when their daughter, who has a known allergy to all nuts, accidently ingested peanut butter while at school.
In eighth grade at the time, Lilliana, immediately began to feel burning in her mouth and was rushed to the schools nurses’ office, along with a friend, where a substitute nurse was on staff that day.
Marianne Franklin explained that every year since her daughter was in kindergarten they have provided physician orders, which are required step-by-step instructions on how to deal with a reaction. First comes a dose of Benadryl, next a shot of an epinephrine done by an EpiPen and lastly call 911. Every year the nurses are reminded of the protocol and the Franklins provide new Benadryl and two new EpiPens.
“The nurse really didn’t take it seriously, she took her time and flipped through the folder … she has a special folder with a big medical alert sign on it,” Marianne said. “The nurse slowly went through it while Lily started to panic.”
At this point, Marianne was on the phone with her daughter while on her way to the school. Lilliana’s friend ended up executing the EpiPen but it bounced off her skin and she didn’t receive enough of the medication. Once Marianna reached the school, she took her daughter to the hospital where she received the appropriate treatment.
“Basically, every nightmare I have had since she was diagnosed came true,” Marianne said.
Michael Franklin said following their daughter’s accident they sat down with the nurse and principal of the school, as well as the superintendent of schools, and talked about what happened and how that kind of situation can be prevented in the future.
“They immediately went back to some of their protocols and some of their processing and training so that they can update some of their policies and training for the nursing staff,” Michael said.
Although Lilliana’s school was doing what they could on their end for the students with known allergies the Franklins, along with a growing population of concerned parents, felt it didn’t fix the problem for having the training and medication for students with unknown allergies.
“The way you find out you have an allergy is you have a reaction, particularly in the elementary school,” Michael said.
The Franklin’s pointed out that Berlin’s Michelle Gillespie, whose son has several severe food allergies, “took the ball and ran” when she heard of what happened to Lilliana.
“That [bill] came about by other parents with children with known allergies finding out what happened to Lilly and becoming fearful of what could happen to their kid and thinking what if they are not as fortunate,” Michael said. “So it was creating a bit of groundwork for concern.”
Sen. Jim Mathias was informed of the accident and growing concerns who in turn presented the bill. The legislation passed both houses of the General Assembly unanimously and then signed by the governor.
By next school year all schools in Maryland will be required to have EpiPens on stock and have staff trained in case of an allergic reaction.
“If you look at the time from when Lilly was in kindergarten until now, the level of awareness is definitely going in a positive direction,” Marianne said. “We have seen a lot of changes in awareness and this bill just made it jump leaps and bounds.”