The mother of a 16-year-old girl with a severe nut allergy has spoken of her constant and daily fear that her daughter will die because she doesn’t carry her EpiPen.
Shelby Wigmore’s daughter, who is not named, doesn’t always get out her life-saving epinephrine auto-injector for fear of seeming uncool among her friends.
Shelby, 54, speaks out ahead of a frightening Emmerdale story in which a fan favorite passes out after accidentally eating food containing nuts.
On Monday night in the ITV1 soap, Jacob Gallagher, played by hunky Joe-Warren Plant, 21, will bite into a burger which, unbeknownst to him, contains nuts.
He himself had a lifelong nut allergy and within seconds collapsed on the floor with a severe attack of anaphylaxis.
Then it’s a race against time to find the two adrenaline pens he should carry with him, better known as EpiPens or Jext pens, that can help save his life.
Emmerdale producers have worked closely with the charity Anaphylaxis UK, which warns that teenagers and people in their early twenties may be at greater risk as they are more likely to take risks and not carry a pen when socializing with friends.
The experts say parents can face a whole new set of challenges when their child with allergies becomes a teenager or young adult.
They forget their medications when they leave the house, whether intentionally or accidentally, may ignore the “may contain” label out of frustration, or are so afraid of their allergy that they avoid socializing or eating a normal diet .
Chief executive Simon Williams said: “Younger people are more at risk – particularly teenagers and people in their early 20s.”
“In addition, younger people in particular are afraid to admit that they have something different. When a waiter asks if someone has an allergy, they often don’t answer.”
“What affects people the most is the quality of life and the anxiety that comes with it.”
“Fortunately the number of people dying is relatively small, but it is that fear and constant lifelong worry.”
“It’s difficult to go out to restaurants, go on vacation, have a sleepover on school trips or sleepovers because people are very afraid that it could happen.”
For Shelby, who lives in Brighton and works with autistic children, the Emmerdale scenes on TV are a real and frightening scenario that she regularly fears.
She told The Sun: “They don’t take teenagers because they’re not cool.
“I also read that they don’t do this because they look phallic and act like a sex aid.
“Without exception, my daughter doesn’t take them either.
“She’s 16 and you don’t want to carry anything bulky around when you’re with your cool friends. And they’re bulky, I get that.
“On the other hand, it’s incredibly frustrating because it could save your life.
“Of course I tell her this all the time, but I work full time and I’m not always there when she leaves the house to put the pens in her bag.
“But she is also a very sensible girl and I have every confidence in her that she will protect herself and do the right thing.
“Yet it still dominates your life. They are constantly thinking about what can possibly get into their body. An innocent meal could be their killer.”
It dominates your life. A harmless meal could be their killer.
Shelby’s daughter was first diagnosed with a nut allergy 14 years ago.
One in 50 children and one in 200 adults have a nut allergy, says Anaphylaxis.
“She had a massive reaction to pistachios when she was 2 and a half years old,” said Shelby, a mother of two whose oldest daughter has no allergies.
“She had eaten a snack box that contained nuts and raisins.
“A few minutes later she started to swell, she was red, had a rash, her eyes were closed and she was visibly distressed.
“Just as we got to the hospital, she started breathing.
“She was taken to Resus and surrounded by an emergency team. She’s very lucky to be alive.”
Since that shock diagnosis, Shelby admitted that her life naturally revolved around food.
“If she eats that, she could die.”
“You become very hands-on,” she said. “You need to constantly think about the food you buy and become your child’s advocate and educator.
“Things like birthdays and playdates become very difficult because you can’t just drop them off at someone’s house.
“You have to tell them, ‘If she eats that, she could die.'” Even on holidays, people worry about where it’s safe.
“Luckily we went on some great trips, including to Zanzibar, but the whole time I was constantly thinking about where the nearest hospital was, just in case.”
Now, as Shelby’s daughter prepares to leave the nest in two years, she says she knows she won’t stop worrying.
“As she gets older, her allergies could potentially become more severe,” she admitted.
“I’m worried that she’ll get caught accidentally then, but I’m confident there’s some research being done behind the scenes to try and eliminate allergies completely.”
Shelby praised Emmerdale for the story, which will hopefully raise awareness of how an adrenaline pen can save lives, adding: “It’s great that Emmerdale is airing this story and working with the charity.
“My big dream is that one day all restaurants and schools will have a pen on site.
“Just like we have defibrillators now, it would be great to have pens too. They really do save lives.”
*If you would like more information about living with a food allergy, visit the Anaphylaxis UK website.
How adrenaline pens save lives
Epinephrine auto-injectors (AAIs), more commonly known as EpiPens or Jext Pens, can save your life if you have a severe food allergy and are at risk of anaphylaxis.
An epinephrine pen is an auto-injector that contains epinephrine, a medication that can relieve your body’s allergic reaction by relaxing the muscles in the airways to make breathing easier and help reverse the rapid drop in blood pressure.
It also relaxes the muscles in the stomach, intestines and bladder.
Experts recommend keeping two of these with you in case the patient needs more adrenaline after five minutes while waiting for paramedics.
If you suspect anaphylaxis, use your auto-injector immediately.
Then call 999 and say it is an emergency case of anaphylaxis (Anna-fill-axis).