The death of a Chicago seventh-grader who suffered an allergic food reaction during a classroom party last year has led to a bill now awaiting the governor’s signature that would allow school nurses to administer life-saving epinephrine injections regardless of whether a student has been diagnosed with an allergy.
Katelyn Carlson, 13, died of anaphylaxis on Dec. 17, 2010, after eating takeout food cooked in peanut oil at Edison Regional Gifted Center in Albany Park. The girl was not given an injection of epinephrine, a hormone that can counter severe allergic reactions by opening constricting breathing tubes, improving blood circulation and reducing swelling.
Illinois dispense prescription medicines like epinephrine only when a student’s physician prescribes it, parents supply the drug and the student’s medical plan lists the medication. In Katelyn’s case, CPS officials maintained they followed the student’s updated health plan.
Under the bill, which passed the Illinois House of Representatives in April and the Senate Wednesday, a school nurse can administer an epinephrine auto-injector to any student that the nurse believes is having an anaphylactic reaction even if the student’s medical file does not indicate he or she has been diagnosed with the allergy. But the key is having a school nurse. Many Illinois schools have cut nurses as they’ve tried to balance their budgets in recent years.
“This will save someone else’s life,” said Kristin Miller of Clarendon Hills, who has two kids with food allergies and has successfully lobbied on behalf of implementing food allergy procedures in schools.
The number of cases of children with food allergies is growing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 25 children are affected by food allergies, which have jumped nearly 60 percent from 1997 through 2009.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who helped craft the bill with state Rep. Chris Nybo (R-Lombard), said Katelyn’s death and countless stories from parents of kids with food allergies led to the legislation.
“We have an obligation to put in safety measures,” Madigan said. “If a child has a medical problem that has been previously undiagnosed, this will allow that there’s (an epinephrine injector) available at school. It’s common sense at this point.”
Once the governor signs the bill, Illinois will join a handful of states including Massachusetts and Kansas that allow school nurses to administer the devices, often known by the brand name EpiPens. The legislation exempts school officials and school nurses from any liability --- physicians have said epinephrine is a safe medication that at most increases the heart rate.
What will be left up to schools is how to pay for the emergency stock of EpiPens. Advocates hope that as schools face tightening budgets, parents will step in and purchase extra epinephrine injectors for their schools.