Illinois School Apologizes After Nurse Delayed Life-Saving EpiPen Treatment For Teen Suffering Allergic Reaction

Illinois teacher allergy

An Illinois school district is apologizing after a school nurse delayed giving a teenager a life-saving EpiPen injection when she had a severe allergic reaction, The Chicago Tribune is reporting.

Fifteen-year-old Lia Sommer of suburban Chicago has a life-threatening peanut allergy. If she consumes even a minute amount, her body could send her into a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Fortunately, an EpiPen injection will reverse that reaction and save her life. That’s why her medical chart, kept in the nurse’s office, has the words “Give EpiPen First!” on the front page.

So back on August 30, when Lia accidentally ingested some peanut products, she figured the school nurse would follow her allergy plan to the letter. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

That day, Lia bought a turkey sandwich with pesto sauce from the school cafeteria at John Hersey High School, not knowing it contained peanuts. No sooner did she eat a bite than she realized her mistake, and she immediately took off to the nurse’s office accompanied by a friend.

Once she got to the nurse’s office, she expected to get a shot of her EpiPen to prevent the fatal reaction. For reasons that aren’t clear, however, the nurse on duty that day ignored Lia’s plan and instead recommended that she take Benadryl, an over-the-counter allergy reliever. Lia knew that wouldn’t help, according to her mother, Lonnie Joy Summer.

“Lia refused, knowing from previous experience that her symptoms would be masked by the antihistamine, though the anaphylactic reaction would not be halted, and would continue to silently and dangerously escalate undetected.”

When Lia insisted that she needed the EpiPen injection, the nurse, rather than following the plan, which says “Give EpiPen First!” on the front page, the nurse had Lia call her mother. Lia’s mom asked if the teen had been given the EpiPen and if 911 had been called. The answer to both questions was “No.”

“I was shocked that a trained medical professional was either unaware of the most up-to-date protocol for anaphylaxis, or unwilling to follow it. I told her administer the EpiPen and call 911 immediately. She said that it would be done, and confirmed I would meet the ambulance at Northwest Community Hospital.”

Once Ms. Summer arrived at the emergency room, she found that her daughter had been sent there alone, and no school staff accompanied the young lady to the hospital.

Fortunately, the teenager made it through her allergy episode OK and is no worse for wear. But her parents want answers.

District 214 spokesperson Jennifer Delgado, speaking on behalf of the district, apologized for Lia’s medical scare and said that the district would pick up the family’s medical bills.

“The district sincerely apologizes for our mistakes. Student safety is always of the utmost importance, and we are working with the family to remedy the situation.”

For as long as she’s known she’s had a severe peanut allergy, Lia Sommer has been vigilant about keeping peanut products out of her body. Since last year, when she was in junior high school, Lia and a friend, who also has a peanut allergy, have been “self-advocating” and making sure the meals they eat at school don’t contain peanuts. Ms. Sommer says that Lia was told that there are no peanuts used in the school lunchroom, and the pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the school sells come wrapped, so there’s no possibility of contamination.

The turkey pesto sandwiches that Lia enjoys had always been peanut-free, but for reasons that aren’t clear, the food service provider changed the recipe in the pesto sauce and switched from pine nuts, to which Lia is not allergic, to peanuts. No one told Lia.

“A mere trace of peanut protein can cause a fatal reaction for my child, so discovering this was used as a main ingredient substitution had me thanking God Lia knew exactly what to do to stop the reaction.”

School officials are not saying if the nurse who failed to administer Lia her EpiPen when she needed it has been disciplined, but Lonnie Joy Sommer notes that the nurse is still employed by the school district.

[Featured Image by Brian Eichorn/Shutterstock]