One student at a time: Lincoln teen says allergy awareness, new tools could save lives

Public school students coping from life-threatening allergies in Delaware could be in danger — and a high school student from Lincoln wants to make their time away from home safer.

Lake Vasey, an 11th grader homeschooled at WaterGirl Farms in Lincoln, knows how scary an allergy can be for students and their families as she has a severe allergy to peanuts.

“And, surprisingly, I may be severely allergic to something else,” she said, explaining a recent trip to the allergist which resulted in the need for an EpiPen with epinephrine inside.

Her mom, Jody, says Lake’s allergy is ultimately the reason why the family homeschools each of their children now after losing her oldest daughter to a car accident in 2008.

“I didn’t want to lose another child. We all sort of held each other closer around that time,” Ms. Vasey explained. “I remember the first time I left the house after Brooke died. My mother-in-law had to hold onto Lake tight and she cried and I cried. And I just had to go into town. We just had a closeness, and I was much more protective.”

The tragedy led Ms. Vasey to a question she will never forget.

“I called the school and asked them what would happen if Lake had an allergic reaction on the bus. I knew she had her EpiPen on her, but on that bus … there’s no nurse there, no medical professional on that bus to help her,” she said. “The answer was no. The driver would have to call 9-1-1 and wait. It was at that point I decided I was going to homeschool. There were too many gray areas. It’s such a simple thing to do.”

Delaware law, passed and signed by the governor in 2014, now requires schools to have “emergency medication,” or “medication necessary for response to a life-threatening allergic response or asthma crisis,” in stock and available to the school nurse and other trained persons. The nurse must identify and train “a sufficient number of eligible persons” to become trained in the administration of the emergency medication.

The medication on hand at many schools, Lake argues, is a liquid inside a bottle to later be inserted at the appropriate dosage into an EpiPen before it even makes it to the student. Critical life-saving time is eaten up in the process.

There is an easier way, she explained to the Joint Finance Committee at Legislative Hall recently as she works toward her Diamond Clover honor through 4-H. Newly elected state Rep. Bryan Shupe sat with her as she presented her topic.

“Regulation does not require that the epinephrine be inside an EpiPen. It would be in a cumbersome bottle the child [with the anaphylaxis reaction] would have to draw out,” Lake told legislators. “The EpiPen autoinjector is much easier to use.”

Although more expensive, the EpiPen autoinjector already has medication inside. A person trained in its use would simply open the package and insert the EpiPen into the leg of the affected person.

“And hopefully by then someone has called 9-1-1,” Lake said.

Training on the autoinjectors could take as little as five minutes and could be especially important for bus drivers who could have dozens of children on a bus at any given time with no other adult available to help in an emergency, she added.

“Many kids don’t know they have a food allergy or are allergic to a bee sting. If those kids have a reaction at school or on the bus, they may not have time to wait,” Lake said.

By raising awareness, Lake aspires to not only earn her Diamond Clover award, one of the highest awards available through 4-H, but she hopes the state will help fund Epinephrine autoinjectors for schools and buses.

The vice president of the Kent County Junior 4-H Council and president of Pure Country 4-H Club has had a lot of experiences that helped lead her to this point.

She received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award in 2018 and the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2017. Lake has attended 4-H National Congress and earned top honors for speaking about “Ghosts of Delaware” in the Kent County Public Speaking Contest.

“Still, I was really nervous. But I realize this is a huge opportunity to help other kids in our schools all around Delaware and perhaps to save someone’s life and share how important it is. So, I thought I was doing a really good thing. It was all worth it,” she said of her experience at the Joint Finance Committee. “They didn’t have any questions. Everybody would say a little speech and then they would get up and leave. But, when I said my speech, I got quite a few reactions like ‘oh’ and ‘oh, my goodness’ and kind of like in awe reactions like they were surprised that kids could get reactions on school buses. They didn’t realize that. It was good to bring awareness of that them.”

If legislators on the Joint Finance Committee share Lake’s passion, they could recommend to have funding included in the state budget which will be voted on in the end of June.

Lake isn’t waiting to make an impact, though. In June, she will present her suggestions to local bus drivers and will continue working through her ideas with an advisory committee through 4-H.

“I learned that the medications are cheaper in the bottle, but you need a certified person to administer it. I didn’t know that. I think it’s important, especially when young people are passionate about something, to engage them in the process. She did a wonderful job. She’s a great speaker. I didn’t really do anything; she did all the work. She really has a bright future,” Rep. Shupe said. “In a small state like Delaware, you really can accomplish something as individuals.”

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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