The holiday of Thanksgiving is one of happiness and togetherness. But, what if the unexpected happens on a day like this? Unfortunately, not all Thanksgiving days are filled with happy memories. For a father and mother in Florida, the holiday of Thanksgiving turned out to be a tragedy that would remain forever etched in their minds, it was the day they lost their beloved eleven-year-old son.
The Unfortunate Turn Of Events
Oakley Debbs was like any other eleven-year-old. He was a happy, energetic, and smart child. He was from West Palm Beach, Florida. Although he suffered from asthma and allergies, he did not suffer from any other serious health problems. In fact, Oakley was a star athlete and an excellent student. He excelled in tennis, football, and soccer and was a straight-A student. Not to mention he was a marathon runner as well.
The evening of November 24 was just like any other Thanksgiving day for Oakley and his family. They had been in Maine for the holiday. Relatives of the family had ordered them an entire Thanksgiving gift basket. The basket included a ham and a pound cake for dessert. The basket was kept opened and ready for them on the island of the kitchen at the house where they were staying. The family decided to take a bite of the seemingly good pound cake.
Now, Oakley was allergic to peanut and other tree nuts, so he always made it a point to check the label of any food item before consuming. In this case, the label was removed and Oakley did not see any sign of nuts or anything to be worried about. He went ahead to have a slice of the cake.
As soon as Oakley had the cake, he realized that there might be nuts in the cake contrary to what he thought. He immediately went to his parents and told them of his suspicion. His mother had a taste of the cake and agreed it had a nutty flavor. Oakley’s mother acted fast and did what they usually did. She gave him Benadryl pills. A few hours later Oakley came back to his parents and told them he was fine although he did have a small hive on his lip as a side effect.
Nevertheless. the family got ready to go to bed. That’s when Oakley started experiencing chest pains. But he was breathing fine. After about he went and knocked on his parent’s bedroom. Just as he was doing so, he vomited. But, after the incident, Oakley said he was fine and his parents assumed that the vomiting was just a sign of whatever he ate coming back up and that he would be fine.
Not soon after the first episode of vomiting, Oakley started vomiting again. This time around everyone panicked and called 911. The ambulance arrived at their home ten minutes later, by which time Oakley’s skin had turned blue. Oakley’s airways had closed and his heart had stopped an hour and a half after he had the slice of cake.
Oakley’s family had been aware of his allergies and they had an emergency action plan recommended by their allergist when it came to Oakley’s asthma and seasonal allergies. But unfortunately, their doctors never gave them instructions on what to do in case of food allergies. Doctors had always told them that Oakley’s allergies to peanuts and tree nuts were mild and simply needed to be treated with anti-histamines. They were also given an epi-pen but were not told when and how to use it.
By the time the ambulance came, Oakley was lying lifeless in his father’s arms. The EMTs gave him two doses of epinephrine successively, but it was too late by then. Four days later, the hospital pronounced him dead.
The family was devastated by the incident, especially his mother Merrill. She was not aware that anaphylaxis or Oakley’s condition after eating the cake was to be treated using epinephrine and not antihistamines. Unfortunately, Oakley’s family learned that they were not the only ones who had to go through such an ordeal.
The Red Sneaker Foundation
Grieved by the loss of their beloved son, the family started the Red Sneaker Foundation to help other families and educate them so that what happened to Oakley wouldn’t happen to any of their loved ones. Red was Oakley’s favorite color. The people in their community showed their support of Oakley by wearing red sneakers, cleats, and red hair ribbons.
The Celebration of Life
Oakley’s mother, Merrill believed in her son and that one day he would make a huge difference. Unfortunately, for the grieving mother, she never thought for a moment that it might be after he passed away. Yet, she continues to fight for her son and has firmly decided to carry her son’s legacy forward. The family even organized a “Celebration of Life” soccer game in honor of their son. The players all wore white and red.
Food allergies are serious and not to be treated lightly. It is important to gather enough and more information in order to make sure your loved ones remain safe. Always remember to use epinephrine even if the patient exhibits mild symptoms as food allergies can escalate quickly. A free printable Emergency Care Plan containing the necessary information on such conditions is available on the website of the Food Allergy Research & Education. You can print out a copy of this plan and go over it with your doctor.
Please share this story and warn others about what can happen if we aren’t careful about food allergies!