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Unmasking the Silent Killer: A Tragic Story of Death from Anaphylaxis

Why all first responders should be trained and equipped to administer epinephrine.
blond woman with smiling son on her shoulder in green shirt against blue back ground with text, Story Behind Gio's Law

Anaphylaxis, an extreme and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, is an understated but grave concern for millions worldwide. It can occur suddenly, leaving victims and their loved ones in shock and disbelief. This article explores the tragic story of death from anaphylaxis to shed light on this condition's seriousness and emphasize the importance of education, awareness, and preparedness.

The Story Unveiled

Meet Georgina, a mom who enjoyed movie nights with her son and watching him play sports. She got thrown into the allergy world because she lost her son, Giovanni, due to an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts. He had been diagnosed with allergies, and the family received poor education from his doctor. She says they were always told to give an antihistamine first because, in the early 2000s, people believed the myth about Epinephrine causing heart problems. Back then, anaphylaxis was not even discussed; there was little awareness about food allergies. Yet, if you had the right doctor, the doctor did know that you were supposed to give Epinephrine first and understood the severity of food allergies.

Giovanni had a few allergic reactions in his younger ages, which made it seem like using an antihistamine was working. They would always follow up with his doctor because he'd have hives and vomit. Yet, Georgina never was told it was a sign of anaphylaxis.

Time passed, and he got older. It had been a while since he had had allergic reactions. It was a very busy time in their life. Georgina had recently become a single mom. It was Giovanni's first year in high school. He kept busy with homework and multiple sports teams. Then came that night.

It was October 1. That night, they were able to relax with a movie and snacks for movie night. Giovanni was 14 years old. As they popped the movie in and started eating snacks, he noticed the snack had peanuts in it. Back then, Georgina would look at the "may contain" section, which said "may contain almonds." The front of the package didn't include peanuts, but at the bottom of the ingredient list, it said peanuts. He only had an itchy throat, so she gave him an antihistamine and took him to the doctor. She remembers having all his medication in her purse, including the Epinephrine. They drove to urgent care, less than 10 minutes away. But they arrived at 9:05 pm, right after urgent care had closed. At that point, Giovanni started panicking. He also had very bad asthma, so he used his inhaler. He was banging on the urgent care door, thinking someone would open it. Georgina told him they'd go to the emergency room. She couldn't find the epinephrine auto-injector. She sped to the hospital, only a few minutes away. He told her, "I don't think I'm going to make it. I can't do this." She encouraged him to hold on because they were two minutes away. She grabbed his hand. It was cold. He had lost all the color in his face. He was blue.

Nurses came out to help him. Everyone was panicked, saying he was having an allergic reaction, and they took him away. They said he had been gone for 4 minutes and were able to resuscitate him. But he had lost too much oxygen and was in a medically induced coma. He was transferred to another hospital, where it was declared he had been without oxygen for 12 minutes.

He was kept on life support for weeks, with people reaching out from around the world to say they had been through similar experiences and were hoping and praying for him. On October 18, 2013, Giovanni passed away. Georgina says, "That's when we knew we needed to start a foundation. What started as a Facebook Page led to The Love for Giovanni Foundation.

Georgina began asking what she could do to get epinephrine auto-injectors everywhere. The first place that she saw an opening was with first responders. It took from 2014 to 2019 to pass Gio's Law. Gio's Law authorizes New York first responders to be trained to treat anaphylaxis and stock epinephrine in their vehicles.

Right now, first responders nationwide are not required to carry Epinephrine, the drug that could have saved Giovanni's life. To remedy this dangerous situation, help Georgina by signing the petition she sharted to begin the process of making first responder training and carry epinephrine mandatory at the federal level. You will join the 60,000 people who have signed the petition towards and achieve the goal of 75,000 signatures. 

Education and Awareness Saves Lives

Giovanni's story serves as a harsh reminder of the urgent need for education and awareness surrounding anaphylaxis. It underscores the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and acting promptly. Public education should focus not only on individuals with known allergies but also on the general population. Greater awareness can help reduce tragedies.

Georgina wants everyone to know that "Epinephrine is safe and that it is so important to use. If you don't carry it, you can't use it. It won't save you." Anaphylaxis can strike swiftly, leaving little time for intervention. It is crucial for individuals at risk to carry epinephrine auto-injectors and to ensure those around them are aware of how to use them in an emergency. Healthcare professionals must also emphasize the importance of early intervention and provide clear instructions on managing anaphylaxis to both patients and caregivers.

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This story is a sobering reminder of the tragic consequences that anaphylaxis can have on individuals and their families. Our collective responsibility is to understand anaphylaxis better and take active steps to prevent unnecessary loss of lives.

In the New York State Allergy community, everyone worked hard on getting Gio’s Law passed, and now it’s time for implementation. Signing Georgina’s petition is one step in the implementation process. By remembering Giovanni and sharing his story, we honor his memory and strive towards a world where not another life is lost to anaphylaxis.