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June 14, 2006

Teenage Bully Pushes the Limit at Lunch

Here's another on-line article from news.com.au
that describes an attack on a 13 year old peanut allergic student. This is scarey stuff that ended up in a anaphylactic reaction. What I find most interesting is the parents reaction; it would have been easy to lose control at that point. They didn't take legal action, they chose to educate instead.

One in 20 Australian children is now allergic – potentially fatally – to some form of food. In the majority of cases the culprit is the humble nut. And now, across the country, the stakes are getting higher.

When the hunk of sandwich hit the back of his head, Daniel Browne – usually the most careful of 13-year-olds – instinctively swung around. His assailant, standing three metres away, wasted no time hurling another piece. This one stuck to Daniel's right cheek. Daniel pulled off the projectile and held it under view: a three-centimetre-square, open shred of bread . . . smeared in peanut butter. His cheek began to tingle but he did not yet feel fear.

Classes had just broken for lunch at the Gap State High School in Brisbane's west. Daniel, carting his backpack, tossed the food scrap in the bin and walked swiftly to a nearby water bubbler, where he prepared to activate the first stage of a management plan for his life-threatening allergy to peanuts. He reached into the backpack's front pocket and unzipped the bum bag that carried his EpiPen – an auto-injector capable of rapidly dispensing a dose of epinephrine (or adrenalin) into the bloodstream – slower-release antihistamine tablets, a Ventolin inhaler and Panadol. He punched out an antihistamine pill from its foil seal. Then his tormenter sidled up.

The boy was a classmate, with some grasp of Daniel's sensitivity to peanuts from their days at the same primary school. As payback for an earlier classroom altercation (Daniel reported him to the teacher for continually interfering with his work), he had chosen to fling the fragments of a peanut butter sandwich. It was a little after 1pm on a windy November day last year. And the stakes were about to climb exponentially.

Bending over the bubbler to take a mouthful of water in readiness for the antihistamine, Daniel heard a voice: "Would you like some of this" The boy waved another bit of the sandwich, peanut butter exposed, under Daniel's nose. "I was surprised, so I took a deep breath and inhaled," recalls Daniel, a bright student and talented pianist who at the time was nearing the end of Year 9. He gulped the tablet, but antihistamines take about 15 minutes to kick in and he knew he was no longer dealing with a lesser, skin-contact reaction. "Immediately, my eyes and throat and tongue started swelling," he says. "Eventually, my tongue cracked open and bled."

Daniel had gone into anaphylaxis: the bogey word among exploding numbers of food-allergic children in Australia and throughout the world. An anaphylactic reaction, the most violent form of hypersensitivity known, can cause circulatory collapse and airways to swell so tightly that victims are promptly denied breath. Invariably, they won't crawl out from under the allergic avalanche without the reversing effects of life-saving adrenalin.

Daniel grabbed his mobile phone and went to the pre-programmed number of the school office. "Look," he told a staffer, "you're going to need to call an ambulance. I'm on my way."

Before he took off, he dipped into the backpack again and picked out his EpiPen. When he got to the office, breathing was painful and practically impossible: "My tongue had marshmallowed and nearly filled my mouth. I couldn't draw breath through my mouth." Just before the ambulance's arrival, five to seven minutes after it was called, Daniel slammed his EpiPen into the muscle of his outer right thigh.

Sometimes, a single EpiPen shot is sufficient to counteract the march of anaphylactic symptoms. Yet in the back of the ambulance, Daniel succumbed to an episode of frightening scale. As his blood pressure dropped perilously low, five more doses of adrenalin, 125mg of hydrocortisone steroid, Ventolin and oxygen were administered in the ten-minute race to the Royal Children's Hospital. In the resuscitation area of the hospital's emergency section, he was intravenously fed 20 additional doses of adrenalin over the next five hours – or about one every 15 minutes. Around 6.30pm, he was stabilised and admitted to the intensive care unit where he remained for the next 17 hours.

HAVING COPED WITH DANIEL'S ASSORTMENT OF serious allergies since he was an infant – he has also had anaphylactic responses to mould and pollens – his parents, Don and Conny, thought they had seen and felt it all. But watching helplessly over their firstborn child as he almost died amid a tangle of machines, tubes and nine medical personnel in that emergency room, their distress segued to anger.

"It's changed everything," says 42-year-old Don Browne, a security software developer, "because the whole game turns around when you realise you're at the mercy of anyone. We can teach Daniel to recognise allergy threats in the environment and protocols for reducing risk. (But) we can do nothing about a deliberate assault."

The Gap High's principal, Regan Newman, was not briefed on the incident until he returned from leave at the start of the new school year. "I considered (the attack) to be a dangerous action, that concerned me," Newman says. An acting principal had served the offending boy with a three-day suspension from school, where he was later heavily counselled. The Brownes and the school were satisfied the boy hadn't comprehended that Alex's peanut allergy could be fatal. Police weren't called, and Conny and Don decided not to pursue legal action. This time.

Instead, they have turned their energies to awareness... more

Posted by David at June 14, 2006 8:13 AM