Chandler Swink in 2013. Photo by Facebook.
The recent death of a 19-year-old Michigan college student stemming from a severe peanut allergy, is now serving as a frightening reminder to parents of kids with food allergies.
Chandler Swink, an Oakland University sophomore and aspiring nursing student, was taken off life support on Wednesday night after spending more than a week in a coma. Swink had visited a friend’s apartment where peanut butter cookies had been baked and the young man either came into contact with the cookies or the residue on someone else’s hands. When he started having a reaction, Chandler injected himself with an EpiPen and drove himself to a nearby hospital, where he was found unconscious in the parking lot after simultaneously going into anaphylactic shock and experiencing an asthma attack and cardiac arrest.
Now his family is speaking out to raise awareness about the severity of nut allergies.
Chandler (in the tux) with his family. Photo by Go Fund Me.
“I truly believe that God gave me [Chandler] for a reason, so that I could fight for him,” Chandler’s mother, Nancy Swink, told the Oakland Press. His father Bill added, “You need to take your family members’ food allergies very seriously. [During holiday season] you don’t need to add almonds or pecans to the food you bring.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that four to six percent of children have food allergies, the prevalence of which increased by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.
Chandler had had a level-six nut allergy — the most severe — since the age of two, which had led to ridicule and bullying by his peers, according to Nancy. The school district made itself “peanut free” just for him, but that made other parents resentful. “They would say, ‘It can’t be that bad,’” Nancy recalled. But despite the stigma of Chandler’s allergies, his mom said, “he never complained to us. He held that in for 18 years. When he went to college, he was the happiest kid because he was no longer labeled.”
Chandler’s death occurred just after a survey of 250 kids found that those with food allergies often suffer socially. “A third indicated they had been bullied,” Dr. Scott Sicherer of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai, in New York, told CBS New York.
And last week, a Detroit-area school board member made an insensitive joke about kids with allergies that wound up costing her job. The Clawson School Board was hearing a presentation about food service when an attendee mentioned that one school in the district has 20 students with food allergies. “We should just shoot them,” said trustee Linda Grossman. Superintendent Monique Beels told Click on Detroit that she and the other members were “stunned, outraged” by the comment. Grossman submitted her letter of resignation the following day.
“With food allergies, there is no outward sign of illness, so it is hard to appreciate that people with food allergies have a potentially life-threatening disease,” Dr. James Baker, Jr., CEO and CMO of the organization Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), tells Yahoo Parenting. “Additionally, food allergy is a relatively new problem and people are just learning to accept it. Twenty years ago, food allergies did not exist in the severe form and in the numbers that we see now – so there is a critical need for increased education and awareness about food allergies.”
Meanwhile, the death of Chandler Swink has inspired an outpouring of love and understanding — as well as nearly $60,000 in donations for his medical bills through a Go Fund Me page set up by a friend. “So very sorry for the loss of this young man,” writes one contributor. “Having a daughter with severe food allergies I can relate to some of the challenges that Chandler had to face daily, and my heart breaks for him and his family.”