JFK Mom’s Mission for District Anaphylaxis Policy

A new anaphylaxis policy is in place in East Islip, spearheaded by local mother Susan Kavanagh, who serves as PTA vice president at John F. Kennedy Elementary.

Anaphylaxis is a serious, acute allergic reaction that is often caused by foods, medications or insect venom. Symptoms include hives; itchiness; swelling of the throat, lips, tongue or eyes; wheezing and shortness of breath; and low blood pressure. The primary treatment for this increasingly common condition, which can be deadly if anaphylactic shock results, is an injection of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). The trade name EpiPen is a common name for the epinephrine autoinjector, the medical device used to inject the life-saving drug.

In Kavanagh’s case, the impetus was a frightening incident last November, when her son Spencer, who attends JFK and has multiple food allergies, suffered a life-threatening food allergy accident in school. Luckily, the school was prepared. “I am so thankful for the quick response by the staff members at JFK,” she said. “Their awareness of symptoms and having the medication on hand is what saved his life. I am so thankful to Spencer's teacher and our nurse.”

She subsequently learned that while New York State does recommend that its schools develop plans to deal with anaphylaxis, there were no requirements to stock EpiPens for emergencies. In addition to supporting the  Emergency Epinephrine Act that was introduced to New York’s legislature, she brought the issue to the attention of the district, which promptly decreed that starting this September, all six of its schools would have EpiPen emergency kits available at all times in the event of an anaphylaxis incident. The Board of Education recently approved the adoption of an official anaphylaxis policy.

“The district would like to thank and praise Mrs. Kavanagh, as well as Susan Kosser, East Islip’s assistant superintendent for student support services, for their efforts in bringing these emergency kits into the district,” said East Islip Superintendent of Schools John J. Finello. “The emergency kits have been placed in each building for each school nurse to use as appropriate. In addition to the nurses, the building principals have all been trained in administering the epinephrine when necessary.”

A grateful Kavanagh said, “I am so thankful that with communication and education, East Islip agreed to carry nonpatient-specific EpiPens in all our schools starting in September. After my son Spencer was rushed to the hospital last November, I know firsthand the importance of spreading awareness that 'epinephrine and education saves lives'. It's as simple as that – those are the two things that saved my son’s life. My efforts are to get all schools to do what my school is doing. I want that same care and medication available to children who do not yet know they have a food allergy or bee allergy. Time is crucial in anaphylaxis, and I am so proud of Mr. Finello, the administration and our Board of Education for stepping up and getting the medication and training needed in our schools to save lives in the event of an emergency.”