by Kitty Testa
A high school freshman with a severe peanut allergy required medical attention after a school nurse delayed treatment with an EpiPen. Lia Sommer had taken a bite of a turkey sandwich she purchased in the Hersey High School cafeteria, unaware that the pesto condiment used had substituted peanuts for pine nuts.
The girl immediately realized she was at risk of anaphylactic shock and went to the school nurse. The girl’s mother, Lonnie Joy Sommer, had filed an Allergy and Anaphylaxis Plan with the school’s health office which instructed, “Give EpiPen First!” When Lia requested the EpiPen, the school nurse failed to consult the plan on file, and instead told the girl to take Benadryl, which can mask symptoms of anaphylactic shock.
The nurse had the student call her mother to confirm that she should be given the EpiPen. With the mother’s approval, Lia was given the medicine and taken to the hospital via ambulance. The incident not only has Illinois District 214 reviewing their policies and protocols, but also paying for the Sommers’ hospital bills incurred from the incident.
The Sommers are questioning the competence of the district’s health office, and also the school’s food service for using peanuts, a well-known allergen, as a substitute in pesto.
The inquiries are reasonable, given that about three million people have allergies to peanuts and other tree nuts, a number that has tripled over a decade. Still, the incident begs the question, “Why doesn’t the girl carry her own EpiPen?”
It appears that the practice is not forbidden in the school district, given that they supply a form specifically for this purpose.
What is at work here is the “it takes a village” mentality. In fairness, a school is not a medical services firm, but parents demand that schools parent in their stead regarding their children’s health issues. Perhaps the cost of the EpiPen discouraged the Sommers family from equipping their daughter with her own personal EpiPen when they knew there would be one on site in the health office. And maybe the cost of the EpiPen was in play when the nurse wanted the mother’s confirmation that it was necessary to administer.
As for the District’s voluntary offer to pay for the girl’s hospital visit, this may be sufficient to stave off an expensive lawsuit. They are really in a no-win situation: they can be sued for administering the medication or not, depending on the results of their actions. Hypothetically, if the school were found liable in court, it would likely be for serving peanut pesto instead of the real thing, as opposed to requiring a parent’s consent to administer the EpiPen.
Hopefully the Sommers family has learned that schools don’t parent, and they should take responsibility for their daughter’s health needs. That, and any pesto you get in a high school cafeteria probably isn’t really pesto.