2018-01-10 / Living & Style

Teen with severe allergy exposed to peanuts, school nurse won’t give her EpiPen

By Elizabeth Angarola

In 2016, Lia Sommer, 15, was entering her first year of high school. A time to make new friends and adjust to a new atmosphere, the last thing Lia wanted to worry about was her peanut allergy.

If exposed to peanuts, Lia needed epinephrine to avoid fatal side effects or anaphylactic shock. So her severe allergy meant she needed to check with cafeteria staff during the first week of school to make sure she would be safe.

After being told the lunchroom did not use peanuts and only sold prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Lia felt that she was in the clear.

That week, Lia ordered a turkey sandwich with no problem whatsoever. And the following week, she ordered the same sandwich and added pesto.

But Lia knew after just one bite of the sandwich that somehow she had been exposed to peanuts in the cafeteria.

“I took a bite and I could feel my throat closing up a little bit,” Lia said. She immediately rushed to the school nurse to have her administer her EpiPen.

However, the nurse did not give Lia the EpiPen right away, even though her Allergy and Anaphylaxis Plan on file clearly stated to do so first.

Lia and her mother Lonnie say the nurse instead suggested she take Benadryl and “then just wait and see.”

But Lia had experienced the same symptoms in the past. She knew that antihistamines would only hide her symptoms while the deadly anaphylactic reaction silently attacked.

Lia then called her mom to confirm for the nurse that she should administer the EpiPen.

“I said, ‘Have you given my daughter an Epi-Pen?’” Lonnie said of their conversation. “Have you called 911? She said, ‘No,’ and I told her to do that immediately.”

The nurse then told Lonnie that Lia would be taken to the hospital and that she should meet the ambulance there.

But when the ambulance arrived, Lonnie was again shocked to find that no school personnel had accompanied her minor daughter to the hospital during school hours.

“I am horrified and saddened by the complete lack of common sense and compassion that predicated this decision,” Lonnie said.

In a statement, the school district acknowledged that peanuts were used as a replacement for pine nuts — a main ingredient of pesto — a substitution that was not in line with district protocols.

However, the school district stood behind the actions of the school nurse, stating that she contacted the child’s parent and “acted professionally and, consistent with district protocols called 911.”

Even so, they ultimately apologized to the Sommer family and promised to pay for the medical bills.

The family is grateful for the district taking responsibility for their mistake. But Lonnie still believes there are improvements to be made to ensure students’ safety.

“With the rampant nature of food allergies, all food service professionals should know that the last thing one should use as a ‘substitution’ ingredient is one of the eight major food allergens,” Lonnie said. “I shudder to think what kind of day this might have been.”

Thank goodness Lia knew exactly how to handle the potentially deadly situation. Hopefully, her experience will help future students stay safe if they ever find themselves in a similar situation.

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