I was surprised to walk into my son’s Kindergarten class a few years back and learn that he couldn’t bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Even more surprised that I couldn’t bring in homemade cupcakes for his birthday. I was a little annoyed, but tried to follow the rules as best I could. Admittedly, I was not perfect, but over the years began to respect the peanut free zones associated with school and childcare.

Fast forward a few years to 2013. A local news story about a 13-year-old girl, Natalie Giorgi, fully aware and conscientious of her severe peanut allergy. Her family, informed, prepared and watchful. It was July 26, 2013 and the family was enjoying family time at Camp Sacramento when Natalie accidentally bit into a rice krispy treat made with peanut butter. She spit it out because it tasted funny and reported it to her parents. You see the Giorgi’s had a plan in place. They immediately gave her Benedryl and kept her close. For 20 minutes Natalie was fine. Begging to go back and dance with her friends. Unfortunately, before she could join them, she threw up and went into anaphylactic shock. Her parents administered 3 shots of Epinephrine. Her last words, “I’m sorry,” before she died in her parents arms.

What’s terrifying about this is that Natalie and her family did everything right, yet as I talk to them now, they are a fractured family, missing one key link — their sunshine girl as they called her.

Her twin sister and 2 younger siblings were left reeling from her loss. But in the wake of their tragedy they found it critical to share her story. To educate other about the seriousness of food allergies.

You see, according to a CDC study, food allergy rates have increased by 50 percent since 1997. The rates are astonishing and terrifying for parents dealing with food allergic children.

Since meeting them and seeing the reality of food allergies first hand, I have become an advocate for safety. Although it may be an inconvenience to not bring in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s much more of a travesty to lose a child, any child. Here are 5 things that parents with food allergic children hope for.

  1. Respect: The issue is real and the consequences are too great to dismiss. It’s not a fad. Just as you hope for safety for your child at school, so do they, but everyday they send them off to an environment where they rely on others to follow the rules to ensure their kids lives. It’s an everyday immediate threat. Ask before serving them food, label food items and follow the rules.
  2. Education: Anaphylaxis is urgent. If not addressed within seconds it can be deadly. Parents hope that adults caring for their children are educated on how to react to a situation.  20-30% of first time allergic reactions happen at school. Make sure your school if prepared. There was a new law passed January 1 that makes EpiPens available to any school willing to get trained in how to use it. These EpiPens would be undesignated and could be used for any student. You may not even be aware that your child has a food allergy until it’s too late.
  3. Knowledge: The most common food allergies include nuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. These top eight food allergens account for about 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States.
  4. Plan: Work with your doctors to have an action plan in place. For you, for your school and for anyone caring for your child. Develop a 504 plan with your school to manage your child’s food allergies.
  5. Understanding: Parents of food allergic children are not helicopter parents. They are parents, just like you and I, who are terrified of losing their child, just as we all would be. Don’t judge, instead offer compassion.

For a full story about Natalie Giorgi and her family, click here. And to learn how to get involved in the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Foundation, visit www.nateam.org.