Owen Carey had just turned 18 on April 22, 2017 and was on a date with his girlfriend in London. She surprised him with a visit to a Star Wars exhibition for his birthday and the couple were near the London Eye on the way to Sea Life Aquarium.
Unfortunately, they never made it. Owen collapsed in his girlfriend’s arms, the result of an anaphylactic reaction. He was rushed to St Thomas’ Hospital but remained unresponsive and was declared dead 45 minutes after his arrival.
Owen had known allergies to wheat and milk and generally carried an epinephrine auto-injector with him, but did not have one with him that day. The coroner confirmed anaphylaxis as the cause of death.
An inquest is currently underway at Southwark Crown Court to determine how Owen, who was reportedly careful to alert waitstaff of his allergies, was exposed to the allergen that ultimately took his life.
Earlier that day, Owen had eaten at two local eateries: a MacDonald’s and a restaurant from the Byron burger chain.
The Daily Mail reports that a spokesman for MacDonald’s said: “Our thoughts are with Owen’s family at what must be an extremely sad and difficult time.
“We can confirm that we are no longer considered an ‘interested party’ in these proceedings and we have been released from further involvement.”
The inquest is currently focused on whether the Byron chicken burger ordered by Owen that day contained buttermilk, an ingredient which was not identified on the menu.
Responding to a request for information from the coroner, counsel for Byron said of the head chef: “He has no recollection of the incident but he will nevertheless provide a statement to the allergen protocols.”
As we stated in the original article, we often look for learning opportunities in the hope that tragedies such as this 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, ALWAYS 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 your symptoms or there is a problem administering the first dose, and make sure you carry them on your person 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 (biphasic) 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.
What We Learned from the Passing of Owen Carey