Experiencing Anaphylaxis

Watching your child experience anaphylaxis is a frightening episode. Parents frequently ask, “How will I know if my child is experiencing anaphylaxis? Will I know what to do? Can I really give an EpiPen®?” Because of these questions and more, we are including our story of Morgan’s first (and only!) experience with anaphylaxis.


Anaphylactic Shock Camping at 10,000 feet
by Robert Smith (Father of Morgan)

Our annual camping trip in Lake City Colorado takes place every year at about 10,000 feet, in the beautiful mountains in the Uncompaghre National Forest. This year was no different as we have been going to our favorite location for over 7 years. Beautiful weather, great location and a wonderful sense of family permeated our trip.

We tent camp every year, with myself, my 10 year old son Morgan and my 15 year old daughter, Michaela…my wife stays home as there is no room service in the middle of the forest. It actually works great for everyone as she gets a week break from the kids, and we get some real bonding and fun time camping.

We set up camp on June 28th at our campsite which is about 10,000 feet in elevation and requires a four wheel drive to reach. We are also about 20 miles from Lake City, way up in the Uncompaghre National Forest, far away from any humans.

Our goal is always to get away from it all, especially large groups of loud people. We enjoy our solitude when camping….we love the quiet, the sound of a rushing stream, breathing clean crisp air along with the beauty of our large grove of aspen trees surrounding our campsite.

We got up the morning of June 30th with the anticipation of going fishing. Our idea was to go about 19 miles down, rent a boat on Lake Crystobal and go trout fishing…which has always been a challenge for us. We rented a platoon boat and decided to troll for trout. We had many hits and the kids caught 4 nice sized rainbow trout. We talked about the fun of having them for dinner since our rule is if you don’t eat them, throw them back.

After a couple of hours on the lake, we had all the fun we could stand and returned to our campsite.

My kids had never eaten fresh trout from the stream to the campfire, so after a lengthy story to my kids just how wonderful trout cooked outside really tasted, I took a long time to filet, spice and grill the fish just right. In fact it was wonderful.

My son Morgan is allergic to peanuts, (4+), shellfish, sesame, and tree nuts. We have known this since he was less than 2 years old and have been diligent in keeping him safe in school, sports, eating out and any extracurricular activities.

Morgan always carries a fanny pack with 2 EpiPens, Benadryl® and he wears a Medic Alert® bracelet which designates his food allergies. In fact Morgan even has a column he writes on his Mom’s web site, AllergicChild.com, about his life views from a 10 year old, having to deal with food allergies.

Needless to say, we are a family that is very aware and active in dealing with food allergies.

The result of it all, with all our due diligence, awareness and a constant vigilance ….we never had to deal with an incident (anaphylactic shock) in a reaction to a food allergy….until now.

So after cooking this wonderful dinner, we sat down around the campfire to eat our wonderful trout dinner.

About 2 minutes into dinner, Morgan started to complain of itchy gums, which is an indicator of the start of an allergic reaction to a food. We asked him how he felt and he started to space out a bit. I asked my daughter to get him a Benadryl® to calm down the reaction as he had itchy gums once before as a reaction to sunflower oil in some corn chips once.

After the Benadryl® he still looked weird. His eyes were a bit watery and his facial expressions seemed almost non-existent. He sat there staring at the fire. My daughter kept asking him if he was okay, and he replied he was not sure. I got up and sat in front of him and asked him what was going on.

He said he was having hard time breathing. I could tell that he was having a difficult time inhaling. At this point, I could feel my own fear increase, however I knew to remain calm and focus on helping Morgan. My daughter then went and got his Epi Kit…which contained his epinephrine, just in case.

At this time, my mind was going 100 miles an hour and I was talking with Morgan to breath through his shortness of breath. He kept trying and it seemed to get worse. I was scared, thinking that we were way up in the forest and was hoping he was just suffering from a light case of altitude sickness. I kept talking to him and asking him to tell me what was going on….

Morgan kept telling me, it was getting harder to breath….I could hear him struggling to inhale…it was very short and light….not full breaths. At this juncture, I knew inside myself, Morgan was in trouble and was having an anaphylactic episode. My adrenaline was pumping pretty hard at this juncture.

Right when he said he needed the EpiPen®, I had just injected the pen in his left thigh. It worked just as it was suppose to. As fast as everything was going, it seemed like slow motion as well. The look on his face was of surprise that I had really injected him with the EpiPen.

My daughter, Michaela, was running around the campsite getting everything ready as I had told her we had to go to the Emergency Room. I picked him up and got him in the back seat. My heart was racing as I knew I only had 15 to 20 minutes to get him to the ER in Lake City, before he would need another injection.

I had to run back into the tent to get my wallet and money while Morgan was in the back seat. Right before we were getting ready to take off, Morgan said he was getting sick to his stomach and wanted to throw-up. I jumped out and he got out and threw up his entire dinner. I knew somehow, this was a good thing …to get the food out of him. I also knew time was against us.

My wonderful daughter, Michaela, had put out the campfire, grabbed some cold drinking water and a rag, got his epi kit, and had everything ready to go in minutes. We were already in four wheel drive so I told the kids to hang on had we had to cover 19 miles of four wheel drive trail in a short period of time.

They were (as always) seat belted as I was hitting the rocks and the trail lines very hard. Thank God for a Toyota Land cruiser….I will be forever grateful for its toughness on a trail like this.

A couple of places, I knew I had the front wheels in air. I had to balance my speed with safety knowing I only had only so much time. I was scared but I was more focused on driving and didn’t have any time to have the fear control me.

I had my cell phone out dialing 911, which was worthless. I knew Lake City had cell service, I just did not know how far out it went. I kept pushing redial 911 while racing down this four wheel drive trail. I kept getting a failed call symbol.

After about 4 miles the trail turns into a forest road which is still bumpy but smoother which allowed me to go even faster, while still maintaining a safe balance between speed and the need to get Morgan to the E.R.

My daughter kept talking to Morgan and having him tell us about Harry Potter and reciting the multiplication tables. I kept talking to him as well to insure he was aware. The epinephrine was obviously working by his reactions. He was alert, he kept saying he was okay, and we kept talking to him to keep him focused on staying conscious.

We had never been through anything like this. I had some EMT training and knew first aid, but even though we had never been though an anaphylactic episode before, somehow I knew we were going to make it.

I kept thinking about the horror stories I had read online about how other parents had lost their kids to anaphylactic shock from a reaction to food.

I was also confused as we knew everything we ate, was safe. I kept running through my mind, what was it that he ate that caused this….keep in mind I am still driving as fast as I could down this forest road…while all this is going through my mind. We ate pasta shells with yogurt butter, (which is something he has been eating for years) we had a salad and trout. We put a spice on it but we read the label (as always) and he had tried that about 30 minutes before we ate, so it was not that. Could he be allergic to TROUT? I had no idea…..

About halfway down the forest road I saw a white pickup truck coming the other way, I noticed he had an emergency type of red light bar on the top. I slowed down and put my left arm out the window, waving him to slow down. He stopped and I noticed he had “Fire Department” on the side of his truck. I told him “I have a son who is in anaphylactic shock from something he ate as he has food allergies,” and asked where is the ER in Lake City?

He told me and then I asked him to radio ahead and have them ready so when I arrived, they would be ready to assist Morgan when we got there.

He said he would and we took off! The road got better and we increased our speed. I had my flashers on and my lights, as well as I was blowing my horn upon coming up on other SUV’s and campers. They moved over.

I was hitting 20 minutes by the time I hit pavement and the turn off to Lake City. We kept talking to Morgan. He seemed to be doing better. So I was not sure whether we were suppose to pull over and give another shot, but I thought we were only 10 minutes away max, I was hoping I would not have to give him another one.

I sped by a police officer going about 70 in a 45 zone and he flipped around and put on his siren and lights. I thought he was trying to pull me over, and I was not going to stop. I rolled down my window and motioned with my arm and hand for him to go around me. Then I thought was he trying to pull me over…no way!

He then moved up beside me, we were both going about 60 and there were two police officers in the car…and they told me to follow them. Apparently the fireman called in and they knew I was coming. He pulled in front of me….and on into town. There was an ambulance coming the other way and pulled into this pull out on the side of the road….the police offer pulled in and we were right behind.

We all jumped out and opened Morgan’s door. He jumped out…and a paramedic picked him up and carried him to the ambulance. He was able to climb in where another paramedic was waiting. They placed him on the gurney and off they went to the Lake City Clinic as they call it.

I followed the ambulance and the police officer followed me. If you can picture an ambulance with red lights and sirens, my Land cruiser and a police car behind us with red lights and sirens, racing through the small town of Lake City. They don’t even have a stop light in the entire town. Everyone was watching!

We all pulled into the Lake City Clinic parking lot and they were ready for him. They put him in an ER room and got his vitals. I spoke with the paramedic outside and they were very impressed with his condition. They told us that we did everything perfect. The Benadryl® first, the EpiPen® second and bringing him in the time we did was just what we were supposed to do.

As a father of a child with food allergies, I am constantly aware of his surroundings and thanks to his mother – we are all very educated in how to care for Morgan in all kinds of situations. I owe it to her for taking the time to teach all of us how to use an EpiPen®. We practiced with outdated EpiPens and the practice pens on grapefruits.

She taught us about symptoms and what to look for which all occurred during this episode. Itchy gums, watery eyes, zoning, shortness of breath, complaints of breathing difficulty….every one of those symptoms was present and had we not known of what to look for, we would not have known what to do. I will be forever grateful for her training.

The clinic kept Morgan for another couple of hours as he had a fast recovery. So we left about 9:30 pm to go back up to the campsite. They also gave us a prescription of Prednisone, a steroid, which is used to reset the system and to provide an extra layer of protection.

Upon calling his mother in Colorado Springs and sharing tears, fears and the story, we all knew at that juncture everything would be ok. We also decided to continue with our trip as Morgan seemed fine.

She did tell me though; I needed to watch for the next 6-8 hours for a possible re-occurrence. So I stayed up till 3:00 am in the tent checking him every 30 minutes for his depth of breathing. He was fine.

I also was very impressed with the focus of my 15 year old daughter Michaela, who was a great champion in this whole story. She was the one who told the paramedics the exact time of occurrence, when we gave him the Benadryl®, (7:52 PM) and gave him the Epinephrine at (7:57 PM). She was awesome.

Of course at the end of all this back at the campground, Morgan had fallen asleep in the tent and Michaela and I were cleaning up the dishes from before, when it all hit me at once. I am emotional type of person, and my expression of all of the surge of energy, the severity of what had just occurred all came up at once. Knowing that we could have lost out son had we not been prepared, just made my awareness of this condition even more present.

If I can share with any father out there that has a child with food allergies I can only recommend….get involved so you know what to do just in case. Also when you are involved your child responds out of respect towards you as well, because what is important to them…is important to you….and they know that!

Also knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have the more control you have over any situation. Having just been through an incident like this with no immediate first aid or outside help available…I can only surmise as a father it is your responsibility to know, understand and learn all you can about how to keep your child safe. If something were to happen, you’ll know what to do…if you do not…you would never be able to forgive yourself, if anything were to happen and you did not know what to do.

In closing I want to thank my wife Nicole for all her knowledge and love she has towards our children….my daughter Michaela for being such an extraordinary champion and for loving her brother so much

And most of all I want to thank my son Morgan for his ability and the time he has invested in learning about his food allergies….so he can share with others how to manage these life threatening conditions. Without his own knowledge he would never have been able to tell us what was going on so we could help him.

I also wanted to thank Morgan for the journey of life with a very special person who has given us another story for the Smith family journal of life….

Morgan’s Story of Anaphylactic Shock

Morgan also wrote about his experience of anaphylaxis. The Canadian magazine “Allergic Living” included his story in their Fall 2006 edition. Please click here to read it.

We are so grateful that Morgan survived to be able to share his experience with others. Knowing what to do ahead of time is VITAL! Practice administering the EpiPen on oranges. Make sure you know what the signs of anaphylaxis are for your child. Talk with your allergist about any of your concerns.