A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: My near death experience with a peanut allergy shared so you understand the gravity

As a safety and risk management professional, I have a confession to make. I have had a total of five workers’ compensation claims in my lifetime. Yes, five. One minor laceration that required three stitches during my teenage years at McDonald’s, a twisted ankle at UPS, and one broken rib from an altercation trying to stop a shoplifter at McAlpin’s all while I was in school.

The other two were nearly fatal; one with my previous employer and the other with my current employer. The paramedic who was sitting on my chest one sunny afternoon after I went into respiratory arrest in Alexandria, VA, later dropped by the ER to check on me and asked if I had seen the bright white light.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com

To be exact, I have had one near-death experience and two very close near-death experiences from an allergic reaction to peanuts that resulted in anaphylactic shock from accidentally ingesting something that was not supposed to have nuts in it. This is one of the scariest experiences you could ever go through. I equate it to having an elephant parked on your chest, or running a mile as fast as you can and then being given a coffee stirrer to breathe through while you pinch your nose for the next 10 minutes.

The initial reaction from an allergic reaction is disbelief as you suddenly experience an abrupt sensation that something just isn’t right. Then within seconds, you feel your heart rate jump from 75 to 180 beats per minute as your body begins to go into self-defense mode to fight off the allergens that have invaded it. As all your senses begin to magnify, you realize that within minutes you will be dead if you don’t act quickly.

In each of my instances as I awaited medical attention, I was cognitive of everything around me but I just couldn’t breathe. As the allergic reaction begins to take its toll, you sweat profusely from every pore within your body, drenching your clothing as you lose the use of muscles in your neck, arms, and legs. Just holding your head up becomes strenuous. Your only focus at that very moment is that very next breath. Then it becomes that very next breath and so forth with that much more intensity each time.

While your limbs begin to turn to jello, you realize you are inhaling a little less oxygen with each struggling breath and you feel your lungs slowly closing off. As your body slowly succumbs to the allergic reaction, you pray that medical help arrives before you lose the ability to breathe.

Everything begins to feel cold and you feel alone even though the people around you are trying to do whatever they can. Then you begin to hear a distant siren from an ambulance growing closer and you realize there is hope.

In the one situation in downtown Alexandria, VA just outside one of our insured’s offices, one of the most comical yet horrifying situations occurred. As the fire truck arrived, it accidentally crashed into a parked vehicle just a few feet away from where I was trying to stand. As the rest of the firefighters hopped out to give the driver a hard time, a co-worker I was traveling with, Carol Anderson from Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company a take-charge kind of person, snapped at them and one finally came to my aid as I pleaded for an EpiPen. He informed me they didn’t carry an EpiPen on their truck and to hang on as the ambulance was just a few blocks away. With my co-workers standing around helplessly, I blacked out.

Once arriving at the hospital it felt like an out-of-body experience as if I was thrust into an old NBC E.R. rerun, mixed in with a horrible remake of the movie Groundhog Day. There is nothing more helpless than the feeling of being unable to move with 10-12 medical personnel hovering over you, cutting off your shirt, sticking you everywhere and doctors barking out orders as they warm up the crash cart.

Luckily, I lived through each of these experiences and several less severe incidents over the years. I don’t take any day for granted my allergy to peanuts. Each day that I awake, I know that this could be my last, as I believe this is how I will leave this earth someday.

I didn’t always have such a severe reaction to peanuts, but as I became more and more exposed to them over the years, I became hypersensitive to the point where I am now deathly allergic to them.

This is why you see mothers freaking out whenever peanuts are exposed to their children at schools. Up to 20% of all children today can successfully outgrow this terrible allergy if they are successfully unexposed to them during their childhood.

Today approximately 32 million people are living with a food allergy in the United States and every year approximately 150-200 people will die from it. There are another estimated 30,000 anaphylactic reactions to foods treated in emergency departments every year. The common allergens that account for 90% of all reactions are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts and cashews), fish, shellfish (such as shrimp), soy, wheat, and sesame seeds.

I don’t like sharing my allergic reaction stories. However, it comes up whenever I go out to eat with a group of people at a new restaurant because I always have to ask the waitress to make sure that the dish I ordered is nut-free and free from cross contamination. This allergy has altered many phases of my life, as I never indulge in any desserts since many include nuts that are well hidden.

When I eat out in a restaurant my greatest fear is cross-contamination from allergens that come into contact with my meal from a contaminated knife or preparation area. When I eat a meal in an unfamiliar area while traveling, I always Google the nearest hospital and distance while waiting for my food, making a mental note in the event I need to drive there in a rush or if I have to give directions. I keep an EpiPen in my briefcase and at home, but because they are temperature sensitive, I cannot keep them in my car.

How To Address Food Allergies At Work:

• Take an accounting of those employees at work who have a food allergy and know if they carry an EpiPen and where they keep it in the event you need to retrieve it.

• Train somebody on your staff on how to administer epinephrine EpiPen if there is a person with a food allergy.

• When bringing pastries or donuts to the office, order some that are peanut-free and ask to have them packaged separately, away from those with nuts.

• When having a pot-luck luncheon or catered meal, have those who prepared the food to identify the dishes that can have the common allergens.

• Avoid cross-contamination with dishes or desserts by using separate knives and serving spoons.

• Know where the nearest hospital is when traveling with co-workers as it is sometimes quicker to drive them to the hospital than to wait for an ambulance.

• When handling and eating foods such as peanut butter sandwiches in the break room, wash your hands and take the time to thoroughly clean surfaces, like tables, to eliminate all residue.

• If you bring snacks to the break room for others to eat, bring them in the original package so that labels can be cross-referenced for allergens.

To conclude, I learned several weeks after my incident in Alexandria that an underwriter in our Chicago office started to experience a slower but similar feeling after eating seafood in a restaurant. After hearing of my story, he decided at that instant he should get checked out. By the time he got to the hospital, he was in full-fledged anaphylactic shock and claimed he would have never made it if he had not acted when he did.

So, I share my story with the hopes this will save another life somewhere, somehow, and make people more aware of the severity of food allergies at work.

Be safe my friends.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment