From peanuts on the plane to dicey local grub, vacations can be a total nightmare for families (like mine) with severe food allergies. But Disney wants to provide a safer haven for the estimated 15 million people with food allergies: They've teamed up with Mylan—the marketer and distributor of EpiPen epinephrine auto-injectors—to have EpiPen and EpiPen Jr stations in all Disney parks and cruise liners starting later this year.
Why this is so amazing: An anaphylactic reaction, which involves multiple bodily systems and typically affects breathing and blood pressure, can lead to death if it's not promptly reversed with an injection of epinephrine. People already diagnosed with serious food, bee sting, or other allergies know, of course, to carry a self-injectable epinephrine device everywhere they go. But anaphylaxis can strike anyone: a person who has never reacted to a substance (or only broke out in some hives) can have a throat-closing, life-threatening episode out of the blue.
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Parents of younger kids, in particular, are often caught off guard. My son Gus's tree nut allergies were discovered on a vacation to Puerto Rico when he was 3 (we gave him raisins out of a cashew-raisin minibar mix then watched in horror as he started swelling up and gagging; thankfully we were in a downtown San Juan hotel, close to help, and not stranded in a remote rain forest).
Keeping epinephrine injectors on hand for all to use, as Disney is doing, saves lives—and not just the lives of "allergic kids." In one study looking at the Chicago Public Schools, more than half of the epinephrine devices were used to treat first-time anaphylactic reactions. In other words, the majority of kids who ended up needing them had no idea they were at risk.
That's one reason that there's been a push to require public schools to keep the injectable pens on hand in case of allergic emergencies. In November 2013, President Obama (whose daughter Malia has a peanut allergy) signed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Law, which provides financial incentive for states to mandate that schools have universal epinephrine injectors, as well as personnel trained to use them. Still, not many states have laws on the books yet. I'll admit I'm biased, but I think it's a cause ALL parents should get behind.
And after that terrifying vacation near-miss, this mom just wants to say a huge thanks to Disney—who is already super-solid when it comes to helping food-allergy families–for taking this crucial step. It's a step that will reduce the odds of a family vacation turning into a family tragedy.
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