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Allergy Advocacy Association - Addressing life-threatening food allergy is a team effort for Clarence family
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Addressing life-threatening food allergy is a team effort for Clarence family

Mitch and Valentina GaylordOlympian vaults to defense of allergic kids in Texas

It took a near tragedy for Olympic champion Mitch Gaylord and his wife Valentina to realize there are no requirements in Texas to stock epinephrine in schools. Their two children have peanut allergies and Luc, now 4, almost died from an anaphylaxis attack. They found that one in 13 children suffer from allergies that can be life threatening, and 25 percent of those kids will suffer their first seizure in a school. And, each succeeding seizure becomes more severe. Thanks in part to their efforts, the Texas state Senate approved a bill mandating epinephrine in public and charter schools unless a district cannot afford it, and similar legislation is in a House committee.

May 1st, 2015
By David Scott

BEE CAVE, Texas (KXAN) — Olympic gold medal gymnast Mitch Gaylord lives in Bee Cave these days, where he and his wife Valentina run the Lagree Studio for fitness. They are especially concerned about the health and lives of children as two of their own suffer from dangerous peanut allergies.

In fact, 160,000 Texas children suffer from such food allergies that could turn life threatening in an instant. Texas is also one of a handful of states that does not mandate, or enable, public schools to keep a drug on hand that could save lives, and the Gaylords are working to change that.

Mitch and Valentina will never forget the day Luc, now 4, went into his first anaphylaxic shock. They had no idea he and his sister Valletta were allergic to peanuts.

“All of a sudden he took his plate and threw it off the table. He doesn’t act like that and all of a sudden he was swelling up,” Valentina said. “We called 911. I was horrified, he was vomiting. We didn’t know anything about anaphylaxis, I didn’t know it could be fatal so quickly.”

Mitch had a similar memory of the incident.

“He took one bite and immediately pushed the plate away. We just panicked. It’s a scary thing…and he was going into a bad place.”

Luc recovered from his seizure but has made three emergency visits to the ER because of his allergy.

Most states have provisions for public schools to keep the drug epinephrine on hand, ready to administer in the moment an allergic student goes into seizure, unable to breath. They were shocked to learn Texas is not one of them.

“I don’t understand why any school or any restaurant, public place that serves food, would not want a life saving device in their establishment,” Valentina said. “It’s absolutely critical.”

“I think it’s a necessity, like a fire extinguisher,” Mitch added. “If there is a fire, God forbid you’ve got a protection device.”

The epinephrine device is easy to administer and takes just seconds. The Gaylords have supplied it to the elementary school where their kids go, but they are worried about other Texas children, so they are lobbying the legislature to make epinephrine available across the board.

“Every second counts and anaphylaxis shock takes seconds,” Valentina said, “and it can be fatal in minutes.”

“The point is it’s all about parents wanting their children to feel safe, when they are at school and away from them,” Mitch added. “We can’t police them 24/7, nor do we want to.”

The state Senate, spearheaded by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-Corpus Christi, has approved a bill mandating epinephrine in public and charter schools unless a district cannot afford it. Similar legislation is in a House committee.

One in 13 children suffer from allergies that can be life threatening, and 25 percent of those kids will suffer their first seizure in a school. Each succeeding seizure becomes more severe.

Chicago began supplying its schools recently and administered epinephrine 38 times the first year. Some school districts worry about legal liability and the cost of keeping epinephrine in stock, but several distributors have offered free or discounted supplies.

As Mitch Gaylord might say, it just takes a leap of faith.

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