19-year-old Millie Bristow from Liverpool died last May after eating Indian food takeout in Warrington, England. An inquest into her death took place at Warrington Coroner’s Court last Wednesday.
At the inquest, it was learned that Ms Bristow was diagnosed with asthma at a young age and had been diagnosed with bronchitis just a few weeks before her passing. Aside from allergies to dust mites and cats, she also had allergies to tree nuts and eggs.
In a statement, her older sister Amy said there were never any problems with eating nuts around Ms Bristow and that her sister would ‘never make a fuss’ or ‘make staff aware’ about her nut allergy if she was eating out, but that she would ‘always get the same thing’ and ‘stick to what she knew’.
Prior to her death, Ms Bristow was staying at a friend’s house to attend a local festival. Although she was not feeling well, presumably due to her bronchitis, she seemed ‘completely fine’ over the weekend of the festival.
On the Monday following the festival — May 29 — Ms Bristow and her friend, who did not know of her food allergies, spent the day together before ordering takeout from an Indian restaurant in town.
The inquest heard that she had never had Indian food before but said she had tried some of her friend’s a few weeks earlier and liked it.
The restaurant was not made aware of Ms Bristow’s nut allergy when the meal was ordered. Hence, they took no special precautions when preparing her meal.
In a statement from her friend, the inquest learned that Ms Bristow began feeling unwell after eating a small portion of her meal and thought she might be suffering indigestion. After she began to itch, she asked if the curry she ate had cashews as she recalled an incident involving them when she was younger.
Her lips and throat began to tingle and her condition began to deteriorate.
She called emergency services to summon an ambulance but was advised by the dispatcher to rush to the hospital. While her friend’s mother was preparing to take her, her lips turned blue, and she was struggling to breathe, and soon began convulsing and vomiting.
A number of additional calls were made to emergency services and paramedics soon arrived on the scene.
A statement from a paramedic who was the first to arrive stated that the basic life support equipment he had on hand would not be sufficient and called for advanced equipment once he diagnosed that Ms Bristow was suffering an anaphylactic reaction. He said she was frantic, choking on vomit, and was at ‘imminent risk of going into cardiac arrest.’
[Note: there is no indication whether that epinephrine was administered on the scene.]
Ms Bristow did indeed suffer cardiac arrest. Chest compressions were administered, and an air ambulance was summoned.
Upon arrival at Warrington Hospital, she was ‘acutely unwell’ and CPR was continued. After 40 minutes, efforts were halted and Ms Bristow was pronounced dead at 8:32PM.
An environmental health officer from the council’s food hygiene team visited the eatery to check their records and found everything in order.
Senior coroner Jacqueline Devonish offered the Bristow family her ‘deepest condolences’ and acknowledged that the woman managed to get through life ‘with very few incidents’ due to her allergies.
She noted how Miss Bristow did not broadcast that she had allergies or that she could be allergic to anything, but said she was ‘very careful’ to avoid foods and seemed she had a ‘vague recollection’ of a nut allergy.
Her cause of death was determined to be accidental due to respiratory failure from an anaphylaxis reaction and acute bronchitis.
We send our sincere condolences to the Bristow Family for their terrible loss and hope the close of the inquest also brings some measure of closure for them. The food allergy community mourns with them at the loss of yet another of our own.
As we do when looking back on such tragedies, we look for strategies others in the community can employ to avoid similar occurrences.
First, it is unclear whether when Ms Bristow was actually diagnosed with food allergies, but it is evident she knew enough to avoid her trigger foods. It is also apparent she was either not prescribed epinephrine or did not have her auto-injectors on hand.
We urge everyone who has been diagnosed with a food allergy to obtain a prescription for epinephrine auto-injectors and take two along everywhere, every time. Be sure to administer one when you first suspect anaphylaxis, then call emergency services, and if your symptoms don’t subside after a few minutes before help arrives, administer the second.
If you have a food allergy, we urge you to avoid food establishments that use your allergen of concern as an ingredient.
If you decide to dine at or take out from an eatery, speak directly with the manager and discuss your allergies openly with them. If they cannot assure you you can be accommodated safely, move on.
After taking your order, have them read it back to you and make sure your allergies are noted in the order.
If you are dining at the establishment, upon being served your order, ask the waitstaff if they are sure your allergies were noted, and special handling to avoid cross-contact was applied. If not, refuse the order.
Also, if you ordered takeout, upon pickup or delivery, ask for the manager and confirm that you were safely accommodated.
Above all, don’t be shy about discussing your food allergies — accommodating them can be a matter of life and death.
- Inquest into teenage girl who died after suffering allergic reaction — Warrington Guardian
- In Loving Memory of Millie Bristow — Go Fund Me