Breckenridge Girl Scout Littlepage Green earned the Gold Award for food allergy awareness project
For those of us fortunate to not have any food allergies, eating isn’t much of an adventure. But for the up to 15 million Americans who do have mild to serious food allergies, life can be a lot more challenging. An unlisted ingredient on a food item or cross-contamination of allergens in a kitchen can truly be deadly.
Littlepage Green, a recent graduate of Summit High School, has been seeking to turn the tide on food allergy awareness. Green is a Girl Scout who earned the organization’s prestigious Gold Award for her project teaching students about the dangers of food allergies. The course she taught also showed students the proper way to administer an EpiPen, the auto-injection device that administers epinephrine and stops allergic attacks.
Green was motivated to do the project as she has a life-threatening allergy to all nuts.
“It’s kind of a big part of my life,” said Green, who now attends Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. “Not a lot of people are aware that food allergy is a significant problem, or that it’s a big part of some people’s lives. I figured bringing that awareness about it at a grade school level could help with getting that awareness out there.”
It is estimated that one in 12 American children have a food allergy. Living with a food allergy is living constantly under threat, especially if the food is a common one. Green’s allergy to nuts, for example, is one of the most common causes of severe or even fatal food allergy cases.
Eight foods make up 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts and pecans), soy, wheat and other grains with gluten, fish and shellfish.
Other, less common, foods can also cause deadly allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis. A famous case of an uncommon food allergy proving fatal involved 15-year-old British student Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.
Ednan-Laperouse went into anaphylactic shock on an airplane while flying to France after she ate a baguette she purchased from a Pret a Manger store at the airport. She had numerous serious food allergies, including to sesame seeds. The baguette she ate was baked with dough that had sesame seeds in it, but sesame seeds were not listed as an ingredient on the packaging, nor were any other food allergy warnings posted.
Within minutes of eating the baguette, Ednan-Laperouse’s body shut down. Perceiving the allergen as a grave threat, her body went into shock to try to save itself. Her blood pressure dropped drastically as her circulatory system rerouted blood only to vital organs, while her airways closed up to prevent any more allergens from entering. Her body essentially strangled itself, and she couldn’t breathe anymore.
The reaction was too severe and the administration of two EpiPens came too late, and Ednan-Laperouse went into an unrecoverable coma and died shortly after at a French hospital. Her death and other food allergy deaths have led to an overhaul of food safety and labeling regulations in the U.K.
With the constant danger of careless or negligent food production and labeling, Green and others with life-threatening allergies must constantly be vigilant about what they’re consuming. But without more awareness of food allergies, Green and other food allergy sufferers must rely on others to know what to do if they get in trouble. The course she taught in Summit’s schools might save lives in the future.
“I wanted to make sure there are more people out there to help in a situation where someone could be dying,” Green said. “If I were in a situation where nobody around me knew how to help me except me, I’d be incredibly terrified.”
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