The food allergy community is mourning the loss of a promising future food allergy advocate, Chandler Swink, a 19 year-old student on full scholarship at Oakland University, who had planned to go into nursing.
While the full details surrounding his death are unclear, we do know that from the time he began experiencing an allergic reaction to the time he arrived at the wrong door of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, he was alone and I know I’m not the only mom who is now wondering, what can I say or do to convince my own child to seek help in an emergency? How do I ensure that they will call 911 first and ask someone around them (even a complete stranger) to sit with and monitor them until the ambulance arrives?
Chandler’s mom reported that he had been bullied about food allergies his entire life and that during his time at college he felt like he could finally be himself because he wasn’t labeled by his food allergy. Reflecting on my own life experiences, I was a ‘play it safe’ kind of teenager but there were still times (even in my adult years) where my desire to be independent and do things myself sometimes outweighed a decision to choose the safest options. I can only imagine how Chandler must have felt as he began experiencing a reaction that night. If it were me, I would have wanted to do everything I could to avoid bringing attention to myself, especially if I felt confident that I could get the medical attention I needed on my own.
But allergic reactions are unpredictable and you never really know what could happen, even if you’re feeling fine after receiving epinephrine, which is why you should have someone monitoring you through the entire process of seeking emergency medical attention.
So, besides teaching our own teens to call 911 and ask others for help, what can we do to motivate them to follow through and act on what they are taught?
We can make sure they feel loved, despite their disability. We can ease the social pressures of drawing attention to themselves and teach them by example that relying on others is worth it.
But we can only do so much teaching at home… we can’t change the social stigmas by ourselves. Food allergy bullying must stop.
All kids, parents, teachers, and administrators need to understand the seriousness of food allergies, feel compassion, and actively seek to include and look out for these children. As was demonstrated by Linda Grossman’s actions just before Chandler was hospitalized, there is still much need for education and awareness, even from the top down.
Here’s a few ideas of some simple things you can do help encourage education and awareness in your community:
- Donate food allergy books and resources to your local or school library. Books like the BugyBops or Kyle Dine’s soon to be produced DVD that encourage others to help food allergy kids feel safe and included are great options.
- Invite your school to participate in food allergy awareness activities during food allergy awareness week. You can even purchase posters, bookmarks, and other supplies to be passed out to students. Start talking to your school administrators about this early in the year (or even a year in advance) when there is still time to add things to the school’s calendar.
- Offer training resources to your school administrators and staff. Local support groups and organizations like FARE and FAACT can helpx you get this going.
- Become a room mom. As a room mom at your child’s school, you would be actively involved with parents and teachers as you plan activities that can be inclusive of all children. Through your actions, you can set a positive example of including all children, demonstrating just how easy it can be.
- Participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project and invite your neighbors to do so as well. Pass out flyers and other educational resources to your neighbors as you are inviting them to participate. You can even attach food allergy awareness materials like bookmarks and pencils to the treats you pass out on Halloween.
- Work with your local support group (or start your own) to set up educational booths at local health fairs, back to school night, parent teacher conferences, and other community events.