On Friday June 1st 2012, the Coronial findings into the death of a 13 year old Victorian boy will be released to the public at the Melbourne Coroners Court.
Five years after the death of Scotch College student Nathan Francis whilst on a school cadet camp, Coroner Audrey Jamieson will detail the circumstances surrounding his death and deliver her recommendations.
Prior to the camp Nathan's parents had made the staff and army personnel aware of his severe peanut allergy however unfortunately he was given a ration pack containing satay beef.
Within half an hour of eating a mouthful, Nathan suffered a severe allergic reaction and became unconscious. Despite being treated with several doses of adrenaline by the camp doctor he was pronounced dead that afternoon.
Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said was called on as an expert witness to assist the Coroner at the inquest of Nathan Francis in 2010.
Said explained, "When it comes to food allergy it's not a single omission by a single person. People don't intend for someone with food allergy to have a potentially life threatening reaction, it's usually systems that let people down. Manageable strategies to reduce risk are ticked off on paper, but often not implemented unless there is a parent in the background driving the process."
At the Directions hearing in May 2010 Coroner Jamieson stated, "There are huge public health and safety issues in relation to the management of children with allergies by our schools..."
Ms Said stated, "Systems need to be put in place to avoid accidental exposure to foods and all staff need to be trained to recognise an emergency, know what to do and act promptly. Despite legislation being available in Victoria, more needs to be done both in Victoria and throughout Australia."
In 2008 the Children's Services and Education Legislation Amendment Act in Victoria came into effect, stipulating that any school with students at risk of anaphylaxis must by law have an Anaphylaxis Management Plan, prevention strategies, communication strategies and regular training for school staff in recognising and responding appropriately to an anaphylactic reaction.
Law that had been recommended by a NSW Coroner in 2005 after the death of a NSW 13 year old Hamidur Rahman, has not been enacted. Despite some progress, the approach to anaphylaxis education around the country remains adhoc, especially in high schools.
A 16 year old boy died from anaphylaxis at a Sydney high school in May 2011 and to date there has been no mention of a Coronial inquiry into his death. Fatal allergic reactions crush families and leave friends, teachers, carers and the wider community devastated. We need to be doing more to help prevent severe allergic reactions and indeed fatal allergic reactions.
Maria Said, president of Anaphylaxis Australia concluded saying "Our hope is that alongside legislation being implemented across Australia, there will be more of a national approach to education and information on the implementation of strategies to reduce risk in a society where food allergy is increasing in prevalence. This increase in young children at risk of anaphylaxis means there will be a greater number of children reaching high risk teenage years and we need to be instigating change now so we are ready"
Teenagers are a high risk group when it comes to anaphylaxis. According to US, UK and Australian research, most food allergy related fatalities occur in teens and young people with nut allergy who also have asthma and are eating away from home. Teens need to be educated on how to manage their food allergy from childhood so they can reach their teen years armed with information and strategies to manage a potentially life threatening allergy.
A series of You Tube clips featuring Neighbours stars Kaiya Jones and Morgan Baker have been produced to educate teenagers about food allergy. These clips are being launched in memory of Nathan Francis and can be viewed at www.Foodallergyaware.com.au
With the sharing of information, education, effective support and guidance of all in the community, people with food allergy can lead a close to normal life. Risk is forever present for those with food allergy but risk can be greatly reduced. A whole community approach is what will help teens and all who care for and about them manage food allergy.
Question: What are you allergic to?
Monica Mcghie: I am allergic to dairy, eggs and peanuts.
Question: How and when were you diagnosed with food allergies?
Monica Mcghie: I was very little and I would react to my mother's breast milk when she was feeding me as a baby and eventually she fed me yoghurt and I reacted to that and had to visit the hospital. Mum found out about allergies and it was the first time that she had learnt of it; they did tests and worked out exactly what I was allergic to.
Question: What type of reaction would occur if you accidently did eat one of the foods you're allergic too?
Monica Mcghie: I would go into anaphylaxis if it was a significant amount such as a high concentration of the food that I am allergic to in what I'm eating, if it is a small concentration (for example if I'm drinking a coffee and on the edge or lid there is a drop of milk on it) it will make my lip swell up and my mouth itch which feels as if I have mosquito bites, in my mouth. If I was given a coffee with cow's milk and not soy milk my throat would swell up and I would struggle to breathe.
Question: Have you ever accidently consumed a food containing one of these ingredients?
Monica Mcghie: Yes, recently my husband bought a packet of Hot Cross Buns for me and when I began to eat it, I realised something was wrong and I had to take medication. After treatment we realised that instead of it being a traditional Hot Cross Bun as the packet said it was a White Chocolate and Cranberry Hot Cross Bun - the packet had been mislabelled and still said the ingredients for the normal Hot Cross Bun but was actually a White Chocolate and Cranberry Hot Cross Bun! It was okay because I recognised the problem straight away and stopped eating but it was pretty scary.
Question: As a child how did having allergies affect you?
Monica Mcghie: Big time! It's hard because I was always the one who was a little bit different and one thing I remember is going to Sizzler, as a child, and all I could eat for dessert was fruit! It was difficult at birthday parties too because as a kid you want to eat what everybody else is eating, you don't want to eat something different.
Question: You are now 25 years of age - how do these allergies affect your everyday life?
Monica Mcghie: It's not as much of a big issue now because it's socially acceptable when you're older to choose to eat certain things and not eat other things. Different people have different diets when they're older as some people choose not to have dairy (or spicy foods) or may have an intolerance.
Question: Why did you choose to be a spokesperson for Allergy Awareness Week?
Monica Mcghie: Partly because it is easy to think that you're the only person who struggles with allergies. The nature of it is that as a kid grows up, they go through different stages and struggles although their allergies may remain the same; as a three-year-old you are concerned with food and birthday parties whereas for a 25-year-old you are thinking 'how will I travel through Asia, as a backpacker, with a peanut allergy?' Allergy issues change as you age, as I am older and have severe allergies I wanted to give people the impression that the challenges they face right now are not going to be the same later on, in life.
Allergies can be isolating when you're younger and I am talking from the perspective of someone with allergies and often a lot of these things are aimed at parents and they often are thinking about management whereas I am thinking 'how do you live with the allergy?'
It was a big thing for my parents to be able to hand over the responsibility of my allergies to myself and trust me to make my own judgements and even (they'll hate me saying this) but to actually make my own mistakes. In reality I have to live on my own eventually and mistakes have to be made to live in an ironic sense.
It was nice to be able to provide my side of allergies to parents and identify with children who have allergies.
Question: How do your close friends, husband and family deal with your allergies?
Monica Mcghie: Dating was awkward (laughing) because I couldn't share first kisses with someone who had eaten dairy, eggs or peanuts! I used to joke that if I ever met a guy who was allergic to dairy, eggs or peanuts that I'd marry them on the spot! My husband is very good about my allergies and I married someone who doesn't really like dairy or eat a lot of dairy and he eats what I eat, drinks soy milk and eats the replacement food that I have. Occasionally we will be out, separately, with friends and he can eat whatever he wants without having to think about allergies. He understands my allergies.
Question: What precautions are implemented around your household to protect you from an allergic reaction?
Monica Mcghie: For us we do a lot of our own cooking from scratch. A lot of sauces will have hidden ingredients and now we do our own cooking from scratch and that is a big help. We go to markets to buy our fruit, vegetables and grains. If people come round, for dinner, they often want to bring food to contribute and I ask that they bring drinks instead. It can be quiet awkward to say to someone "we can't cook that". I once had a friend come to my house with fish cakes and they were made with egg and it was really awkward to have to say "Do you mind just taking them home because if we cook them, then we'd have to be really careful about cleaning up or if people share a tong with the fish cake and my food".
Question: Do your parents or siblings have any allergies?
Monica Mcghie: No, none at all. My dad has Crones, an immune disease, and his side of the family has hayfever and asthma which are similar things but no one has allergies to the extent that I do!
Question: What advice would you give to someone else who may have just been diagnosed with an allergy?
Monica Mcghie: Definitely be prepared for things and as a parent don't just take into consideration the dangers but how you can make the food experience a joyful one as well as being a responsible experience. Rather than providing fruit as a dessert alternative make something that is as equally exciting so they're not missing out. My mum would pre-bake egg-free cupcakes and freeze them and then take one along to birthday parties so when other kids had cake, I could have my cupcake. Little things help with keeping safe and the fitting in aspect of an allergy.
Interview by Brooke Hunter