An epinephrine auto-injector, or,"EpiPen"
East Tennesseans are very familiar with allergies, but those symptoms are usually weather-related. For those battling food allergies, especially children, reactions can be very dangerous.
State legislators are considering a bill that could help children during school hours.
On Tuesday, the House Education Committee will hear an amendment to House Bill 866 (Senate Bill 1146). If passed, the legislation will ensure schools in Tennessee are prepared to treat allergic reactions if a student doesn't have their personal medication or suffers a first-time reaction.
The legislation authorizes schools to keep epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as "EpiPens" on hand. As prescribed by a physician, schools would be able to exercise the ability to use the medication on a student if he or she suffers an anaphylactic reaction while in school.
"It is a frightening situation," explains allergist Dr. Bob Overholt, of Allergy, Asthma & Sinus. "It occurs with bee stings, it occurs with drug reactions, and it can occur with foods."
Overholt says more and more children are become allergic to foods, and schools should be prepared to react.
The legislation also protects school staff, who are required to work quickly in a tense, emergency situation.
According to the bill, the physician, nurse, or school personnel that administers the epinephrine will not be held responsible for any injuries a student sustains during the treatment, as long as there is no intentional disregard for safety.
"If the decision is made where an EpiPen is needed to be given, then you have to be sure that person is held harmless for giving the adrenaline," Overholt said. "Because it is the early treatment and the quick treatment that is so important is saving a young child's life."
Candice Heinz's 8 year old son, Elijah, has been living with severe food allergies since infancy. His allergies include milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.
"When he was diagnosed, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what I was going to feed this child," Heinz remembers.
She has since started "Elijah's Hope," an allergy awareness group, to help other families dealing with severe food allergies.
Heinz has also formed a strong relationship with her son's school, and tries to stay one step ahead of a reaction.
"His teacher keeps his EpiPens on her at all times. "They're on a field trip, she has them. If they go to the gym, she hands them off to the PE teacher. When he goes to lunch, they're given to the lunch aides and she to take them out to recess. So, they're always around."
Most children who have severe allergies will already have their EpiPens nearby. Heinz explains, the legislation is designed for those unprepared situations, or the surprise when a previously unknown allergy is introduced, like a bee sting.
"Allergies can happen any times, and it's good to have this medication on hand because its severe," she said. "It's life threatening, and you have to react within minutes to ensure that child is not going to die."
Heinz is also part of a group planning a special Easter egg hunt on Saturday for children with food allergies. The eggs will be plastic, only. Instead of chocolate, the eggs will be filled with toys.
The event is scheduled at 10:30am Saturday, at the University of Tennessee Gardens.