A Dancer’s Tragedy: An Allergy Parent’s Worst Nightmare


As allergy parents, we are always on alert. We need to be on point all the time when it comes to dealing with severe allergies. People always ask me, “Are you anxious all the time? How do you deal with that?” And my response is usually along the lines of, “I do what I need to do.” This is my reality, and it is my child’s reality.  There’s no flexibility. There’s no break.

Since our child was preschool-aged, we’ve always instilled in him awareness regarding his allergies (including the extent of how severe his allergies are) and encouraged advocacy in being proactive about preventing reactions. This included everything from championing our friends and his school in taking important preventative actions to reading ingredient labels before opening up a food package. Even if he’s had the same snack many times before, we always make a habit of reading the labels as manufacturers can change the ingredients without notice.

So what if you’re doing everything right in avoiding known allergens? It still wouldn’t completely prevent allergic reactions – even catastrophic ones. New allergies can be developed at any time, without warning.  I can attest to this, as this happened to a relative of ours, who had been eating shellfish her whole life with no issues and suddenly ended up in the ER in her 30s after enjoying a lobster roll.

Or there can be mislabeling on packaged foods, like in the case of the up-and-coming NYC dancer Orla Baxendale, who tragically died after consuming cookies from Stew Leonard’s – cookies she thought were safe after double checking the ingredients list. Everyone she worked with knew of her allergies, and she always carried up to 3 EpiPens.

Could dancer Orla Baxendale‘s tragedy have been prevented at all? We asked renowned allergist and immunologist Dr. Sanjeev Jain from Columbia Allergy, who is also a pioneer in establishing oral immunotherapy (OIT) – which could’ve very well prevented Orla’s tragedy had she been through treatments – what his thoughts are.  Here’s what Dr. Jain had to say:

“This was indeed a very tragic outcome. All the details of what happened are not available in the public domain. It is not clear how much peanut was in the cookie that she ate. It is not clear how soon after the exposure she was administered an Epi-pen injection. The current guidelines are that if an allergic reaction is not clearly improving within 5 minutes of the first injection, a second injection needs to be administered. It appears that she did not receive the second injection. The effects of an Epi-pen last for only 20 minutes; it is intended to buy time for the person to reach the emergency room. It is not clear how soon after the administration of Epi-pen she reached the hospital. All these details are crucial to determine if anything different could have been done…(nevertheless,)…there are some allergic reactions which are so severe that no intervention can prevent a negative outcome.
That last statement hit me hard. Even though I know that there are circumstances where you cannot stop or slow the allergic reaction in time, it’s still a hard pill to swallow to confirm that a reaction can be so severe that no intervention can help. This further reinstates the critical importance of allergy treatments such as OIT. If Orla had undergone OIT and had built up some tolerance to peanuts, she could still be dancing on stage today. I am grateful for the tangible peace of mind that I will get every time my son makes progress on his OIT journey.


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