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SD 159 protects kids with food allergies

The Matejkfamily parents Lori Brian with their children Ryan Maddie.  |  File photo

The Matejka family, parents Lori and Brian with their children Ryan and Maddie. | File photo

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Updated: March 21, 2014 7:18AM



Angry after their daughter suffered a severe reaction to airborne peanut dust in her Mokena classroom in November, Lori and Brian Matejka demanded that Mokena District 159 take steps to improve student safety, including declaring its schools to be peanut-free.

That didn’t happen, but the district formed a parents advisory group and implemented measures to ensure a quick emergency response for students with severe food allergies.

Lori said she’s “so happy” with the response by District 159 officials to reduce such health risks.

“The district is on the right path. They have done so much in such a short time,” said Lori, whose 8-year-old daughter, Maddie, could have died last fall and had to be transported to Silver Cross Hospital. “They made a lot of changes and are open to new ideas, which is really good. They are making kids aware of what signs to look for in their friends.”

Maddie’s throat began to close when a student in her classroom at Mokena Elementary School opened a bag of trail mix. The nurse could not find Maddie’s Epi-Pen, which has a preloaded injection of epinephrine, typically the first emergency treatment for someone suffering a dangerous reaction.

“We’ve done a variety of things to help address the outbreak we had during a two-week period in the fall. There have been no allergy-related incidents since,” said District 159 Supt. Omar Castillo, whose son also has a severe food allergy.

A cabinet in the nurse’s office at each of the three schools contains affected students’ Epi-Pens, organized alphabetically with the student’s picture on each for quick access. Additional Epi-Pens are available for emergencies, and all teachers have been trained on how to use them.

Also, Epi-Now kits were donated by a parent to hang in school hallways similar to automatic external defibrillators, but Castillo said the district is awaiting a legal opinion on whether it can make a prescription drug so readily available.

District 159 also has emphasized the importance of cleanliness in preventing allergic reactions. Paper towels have been placed in all washrooms to encourage students to wash their hands. Some kids would not wash and dry their hands because the hand dryers took too long, Castillo said.

He said the district has changed its method for cleaning lunch tables, with separate cleaning buckets and cloths for the peanut-free tables, and all tables are wiped down after every lunch period. And a new approved snack list for students has been sent home to parents, too.

“We’ve made so many changes I don’t know which one helped most. It’s a combination of everything. It’s just the little things sometimes,” Castillo said. “We are getting very positive feedback from parents. They are happy with the changes, happy with progress.”

As for Maddie, she’s slowly overcoming her fear of going to school, her mom said.

The parents group may meet one more time this school year and could convene once every semester in the future, Castillo said.



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