It’s been five years since Oakley Debbs’ tragic death over the Thanksgiving holiday. Oakley would be 16 now if he hadn’t suffered anaphylactic shock from an allergy to nuts.
Debbs was an 11-year-old from West Palm Beach, Florida. He was a straight-A student, happy and a great athlete. He played soccer, tennis, flag football and ran marathons.
In 2016, his family took a vacation to Maine for the holiday. One night, Debbs ate some cake that contained nuts.
Debbs had asthma and had tested positive for a mild allergy to tree nuts and peanuts. After eating the cake, he began having a slight reaction. He had one hive on his lip, so his mother, Merrill, gave him some Benadryl pills, an antihistamine, and he felt fine again.
Merrill said doctors had never educated the family about how to treat their son’s food allergies and had never told them the importance of using epinephrine to do so. His parents said they were not aware their son was suffering anaphylaxis.
Debbs became sick and began vomiting.
“He started throwing up, and from there it was a tornado of issues. We called 911. By the time the ambulance got there — about 10 minutes later — he was blue,” the Today Show reported Debbs’ mother as saying.
Soon, Debbs’ airways closed and his heart stopped.
When EMTs arrived, Oakley appeared lifeless in his father’s arms. The responders gave him epinephrine and rushed him to the hospital, but it was too late.
Oakley Debbs was pronounced dead in the hospital four days later.
One of the difficult aspects of his death was that his parents found out it could have been prevented by using epinephrine, which can be delivered via an EpiPen.
“I don’t think my beautiful, amazing, talented, adorable son should have passed away,” Merrill Debbs said, according to Today.
To honor their son and raise awareness about allergies, the Debbs started “Red Sneakers for Oakley, Food Allergy Awareness.”
Red sneakers were Oakley Debbs’ favorite shoes.
“The entire family unilaterally decided to use them as a powerful symbol of the need for greater education and awareness about food allergies,” Red Sneakers for Oakley explains on its website.
They hope the organization will help raise awareness about food allergies and help educate parents and children about how to treat them.
Debbs family members said they had not been told how to look for the signs of anaphylaxis, and they also said they weren’t told that epinephrine was the only first-line drug to prohibit it.
“I wasn’t aware; no one told me,” Merrill Debbs told Living Allergic.
“So our advocacy also relates to the fact that we didn’t know that,” said Robert Debbs, Oakley’s father.
Now, Red Sneakers for Oakley is dedicated to providing resources and education for food allergy awareness and how to recognize and handle it.
“One in 13 children in the United States have food allergies and the numbers are only getting higher,” Merrill Debbs said on the Red Sneakers website. “We want the public to understand that food allergies do not have a cure. Every household and school needs to have an emergency plan and needs to have epinephrine, such as an EpiPen or AUVI-Q, as a safety precaution.
“Changes need to be made.”
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