What We Learned from the Passing of Owen Carey


Owen Carey had just turned 18 and was on a date with his girlfriend in London. She surprised him by treating him to a visit to the Star Wars exhibition for his birthday and were heading off to the Sea Life Aquarium afterward.

They had stopped at a street vendor for something to eat along the way where Owen, always conscious of his allergies to peanuts, milk, wheat and various spices, opted for plain grilled chicken.

At some point afterward, the teenager is believed to have suffered anaphylactic shock and was treated by paramedics on the scene. He was pronounced dead 45 minutes later at 4PM at St Thomas Hospital.

Paul Carey, Owen’s father said:

He was just a wonderful, bright boy who was going to do so much with his life and now he is gone. I don’t know how we will go on. He had suffered throughout his life with allergies and there was always a risk that something might happen and unfortunately it did.

He was careful about what he ate, and if it was just plain-grilled chicken it should have been ok. We are still waiting for the result of tests to find out more.

Though Owen had never suffered a severe reaction before, he normally carried an epinephrine auto-injector with him. He had forgotten to bring it along that day.

Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to the Carey family. Owen’s loss is felt by the food allergy community world-wide and we wish the family solace in the time to come.

As we often do, we look for learning opportunities in the hope that such tragedies can be prevented from befalling others in the future. Here are three important points to keep in mind:

Take two epinephrine auto-injectors along everywhere, every time

First and foremost, take along the only treatment that can save your life when the unthinkable happens: your epinephrine auto-injectors. Always have two with you in case a single dose is not enough to halt the symptoms or you experience a problem administering the first dose, and make sure you carry them with you at all times.

Early administration leads to better outcomes and you should never assume a first responder will have stock epinephrine on hand. Administer the drug when you first suspect anaphylaxis and call 911 immediately afterward, as you need to be kept under observation for a number of hours to ensure subsequent reactions do not occur.

Avoid eateries where your allergen of concern is prepared

Unless you have spoken with the management and are confident in their assurances that your allergies can be accommodated, avoid eateries where your allergen of concern is used in the kitchen. This is especially true of street vendors who may have little understanding of how the food was prepared and can do little else but scrape their cooking surfaces in a vain attempt to avoid cross-contact. Remember, it only takes a tiny amount of allergen trace to trigger an anaphylactic episode.

Past reactions are not predictors for future reactions

Just because you have not experienced severe reactions in the past does not mean you will not experience a severe reaction to the same allergen in the future. Simply put, past experience does not predict how you will react next time. Know what’s in your food, what it came in contact with on its way to your plate, and be sure to have your epinephrine auto-injectors with you always.

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Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom is CEO and "Blogger in Chief" of SnackSafely.com.

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