Family of Model Left Brain-Damaged After Allergic Reaction to Peanut Butter Pretzel Is Awarded $29.5 Million

Jason Duaine Hahn
·4 min read

A Las Vegas jury has awarded $29.5 million to a family of a former model and actress who was left brain-damaged after she had an allergic reaction to eating a peanut butter pretzel.

The family of Chantel Giacalone was awarded the money on Friday after a jury in a civil lawsuit agreed a Nevada ambulance company was negligent when treating her in February 2013, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The then-27-year-old was modeling clothes at Mandalay Bay South Convention Center when she bit into a small pretzel given to her by a friend, the outlet said. Unbeknownst to Giacalone, the small snack had peanut butter in it, and she went into a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock.

The condition can lead to a variety of symptoms, the most critical being a narrowing of airways that causes difficulty breathing, according to Mayo Clinic. Patients are typically administered epinephrine, an adrenaline treatment, and if the condition isn't treated immediately, it can be fatal.

Beck Starr/FilmMagic

Giacalone's lawyer, Christian Morris, said the aspiring actress went without oxygen for several minutes after seeking treatment from MedicWest Ambulance personnel, who were stationed at the convention center.

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Morris argued that neither of the medics had intravenous epinephrine, which is required by the Southern Nevada Health District, according to the Associated Press. While the medics used intramuscular epinephrine, intravenous epinephrine is needed when a patient has already entered full anaphylaxis, the outlet reported.

"IV epinephrine is required when a person's allergic reaction is so severe that their circulatory system is about to collapse. In this case, the medics failed to recognize and quickly react to Chantel when she presented at the medic room," Morris tells PEOPLE in a statement. "She told them she was having an allergic reaction, she told them she was allergic to peanuts and had bitten into a pretzel, and she told them she was not having any relief from her epi-pen. Instead of immediately giving her [intramuscular] epinephrine (which they did have in their bags) they checked her blood glucose because they thought she maybe had an altered mental status."

Chantel Giacalone Fund/Facebook

Morris adds: "[Giacalone] was fearful and agitated. The reason why she was acting that way was because she was 'hypoxic' and losing oxygen to her brain. But, they again ignored it and wasted precious time on seeing if she was 'on something' even though she had clearly told them about her allergy. Due to the failure to administer the [intramuscular] epinephrine, the need for IV epinephrine was vital, and they didn't have it. Instead, when she went unconscious and stopped breathing they gave her a double-dose of [intramuscular] epinephrine, which didn't help her since her body was no longer circulating blood effectively and couldn't pull the medication from her muscle into her bloodstream."

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William Drury, an attorney for MedicWest, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

During the trial, MedicWest denied negligence and argued that the outcome was inevitable due to the severity of Giacalone's allergy to peanuts, the Review-Journal reported. The medics also testified that Giacalone continued breathing while in their care and they immediately called for advanced life support when she arrived at their location.

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Today, Giacalone — who had parts in movies such as The Buttery Effect 3: Revelations and Hollow Walls — is quadriplegic and needs round-the-clock care provided to her by her parents, Jack and Deborah Giacalone. She can only communicate with her eyes.

"At least my daughter will be taken care of. I'm happy about that," Jack said after the jury's decision, according to the Review-Journal. "All the anguish that we've been through for the last eight years, I'm not happy about."

The couple intends to donate a portion of the money to organizations benefitting people with brain injuries. They also plan to purchase a new home with more space to help them care for their daughter.

"I don't want her to go anywhere else. I love her, and she loves me," said Deborah, the newspaper reported. "It's very hard to take care of her, but I would not have it any other way."