The parents of a Holmes School fourth-grader are demanding that District 97 officials take steps to make the school nut-free after they say their daughter nearly died from a food-allergic reaction on Feb. 3 during her lunch period.
Tim and Laura Hunnewell say their 10-year-old daughter, Sadie, who is allergic to peanuts, went into anaphylactic shock just as her lunch period was ending. Tim Hunnewell believes that actions taken by school employees both before and after his daughter's allergic episode violated the district's Food Allergy Management policy.
"They basically had her cleaning up in the cafeteria, which she isn't supposed to do," Tim Hunnewell said in an interview last week. "That's a violation of protocol. She was cleaning up garbage and then she went to sit at her table, and who knows if they were eating [food with peanuts]. But, whatever the case may be, at some point, she was exposed."
Hunnewell said that after his daughter went into shock, she wasn't given an epinephrine injection — which is an emergency medical treatment for victims of severe allergic reactions — and 911 wasn't called until his wife showed up to the school around 10 or 15 minutes later.
"The injection wasn't given right after she went into shock, even though you're supposed to give it right away," he said. "It literally says that on the package. My kid could've been dead by then. Five more minutes and she would've choked on her tongue."
"A couple of more minutes would not have been good when people go through that shock their throat closes, so time is of the essence," said Laura Hunnewell.
"Depending on how severe the reaction is to the allergy, you can go into anaphylactic shock and die," said Rhonda Policandriotes, a critical care nurse at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet who also has a nut allergy.
According to epipen.com, a website that lays out proper procedures for administering auto-injections and dosages of epinephrine, the immediate administration of the drug is critical for all patients who show the symptoms of anaphylactic shock.
"Any delay in treatment increases the risk of a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction or a biphasic reaction in these patients," the website notes.
The Hunnewells say Sadie was rushed to the hospital, where her condition stabilized, but that later in the day, she needed to be taken to the hospital again after experiencing a reaction to the medications that doctors prescribed.
And on Feb. 10, their daughter was taken to the hospital for the third time in a week after experiencing a reaction while in class. The Hunnewells said that, based on conversations they had with the school's nurse and other employees, they believe nuts may have been allowed in the classroom, in violation of district policy.
The Hunnewells said Sadie hasn't returned to school since Feb. 10 because she's suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and now needs therapy. Her pediatrician, they added, does not believe the school to be safe due to her nut allergies.
Mike Padavic, the district's senior director of special services who is responsible for overseeing the district's Food Allergy Management program, could not be reached for comment.
In an email statement, District 97 Communications Director Chris Jasculca said that the district intends to perform a "comprehensive investigation into this incident, and will take whatever actions are necessary based on our findings to preserve and protect the continued health and safety of every child we serve."
The district's food allergy policy was developed in 2013 with assistance from nurses, and the parents and guardians of students with food allergies. The policy lays out responsibilities, protocols and procedures for parents and guardians, nurses, teachers food service staff members, custodial staff members and principals.
In an email, the Hunnewells highlighted at least 30 specific areas of the policy that they say they are certain were violated by school employees. During a visit to the school on Feb. 10, Laura Hunnewell said that she witnessed many apparent violations of the policy herself.
For instance, she said, a table in the school's cafeteria that is designated nut-free was not marked and "at least one teacher did not know that the table was for nut allergies so he sat a kid at the table who doesn't have allergies." And according to Sadie, cafeteria workers don't wipe the table down regularly, despite protocol requiring them to do so.
"I'd say it almost seems like they have these protocols that they claim are in place, but the left hand is not working with the right hand," Laura Hunnewell said. "It seems like there's a lot of miscommunication between the staff."
Tim Hunnewell said that his daughter's two reactions, show that, because of a lack of training and other factors, the policies will never be enough to completely ensure that his child doesn't have another life-threatening allergic reaction.
"My goal is to apply enough pressure to get the nuts out of the school," Tim Hunnewell said. "If they aren't going to do it, then we'll take them to court to force them to do it."