Sabrina Shannon died from an anaphylactic reaction almost five years ago.
But thanks to her tireless mother, the girl’s death has been commemorated many times in the form of provincial laws designed to ensure other parents never go through the agony of losing a child to a severe food allergy.
Sabrina was 13 and in Grade 9 when she died from a dairy allergy after eating cheese-tainted fries in her school cafeteria in Pembroke, Ont. Her EpiPen, with life-saving medication, was in her locker but nobody around her knew what to do.
Her mother, Sara, has spent the past several years campaigning for laws to protect children with anaphylaxis — a life-threatening allergic reaction that can be activated by many foods or insect bites.
The law requires all schools to establish an anaphylaxis policy, to reduce allergen exposure and to train all staff in the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, such as an EpiPen or Twinject.
Thanks to Shannon’s lobbying, the latest provinces to follow Ontario’s lead are British Columbia and Alberta, both of which adopted formal policies last fall to better protect allergic children in school.
Under B.C.’s new Anaphylactic and Child Safety Framework, every school is required to:
- Identify anaphylactic students and keep a record of specific allergies for each.
- Establish an emergency procedure for each student.
- Encourage the use of MedicAlert bracelets for students with severe allergies.
- Establish procedures and permissions so school employees can administer life-saving medication, such as auto-injectors.
Alberta’s school board association adopted the Allergy & Anaphylaxis Informational Response (AAIR) program, to create “an allergy-safe and allergy-free environment” in schools.
However, both the B.C. and Alberta initiatives are just policy, not law — something that concerns Shannon.
“This is progress, but our children deserve a law,” she says. “People listen more to a law than a policy statement.”
She feels the Ontario law is the best way to protect children, and wonders why B.C. and Alberta didn’t just copy it. “Sabrina’s Law is a tool to help anaphylactic kids stay alive,” she says.
She never tires of fighting for the cause. She just returned from New York, where that state approved a law based on Sabrina’s Law.
Australian authorities are also in touch with Shannon, and she hopes that country will soon adopt an anaphylactic protection law.
Back in Ontario, Anaphylaxis Canada and Brantford MPP Dave Levac (who introduced Sabrina’s Law) have successfully campaigned to get mandatory training for staff in day-care centres.
As of last May, the Ontario Day Nurseries Act requires all licensed day cares to have “risk management strategies” in place for severe allergies and anaphylactic reactions.