New Pennsylvania bill calls for emergency plan to spot life-threatening allergic reactions in kids

A near tragedy with his own son has a local state representative on a mission to change the law and raise awareness about deadly allergic reactions in children.

State Representative Ryan Warner, R-Westmoreland and Fayette counties, introduced a new bill to protect young children who have severe allergic reactions called anaphylaxis.

“It’s amazing how many more children are becoming allergic to food every year. It’s actually quite alarming,” state Rep. Warner said.

An estimated 15.6 million children under age 18 have food allergies and many don’t even know it until they have a severe reaction.

That’s what happened to Warner’s family, when their son Ben, only 4 years old at the time, had a life-threatening reaction to a cashew.

Life-threatening Reaction

Ben Warner is a typical kid. He loves soccer, fishing, and Penn State but also has to deal with a life-threatening allergy to tree nuts.

It’s something his parents never knew, until a very scary day three years ago when he was just four years old.

“It was a summer day and my son had picked up a cashew,” Warner said, remembering it like it was yesterday. “He was sitting down having lunch with my wife, and she was eating cashews, and he said ‘Mommy, can I have one of these?’”

His mom told Ben not to, but just picking up one cashew — not even eating it — was enough to trigger anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.

“Within 10 minutes his face began to swell and got red. It was very scary,” Warner said.

They called an ambulance immediately, rushing him to the hospital. Thankfully, his son’s life was saved. Now, Warner is on a mission to help save other children’s lives by proposing new rules to require schools and childcare settings to have an emergency response plan in place.

“What I’m trying to do is expand that especially into daycare, when children are younger and may not be aware yet (that they have an allergy), and having the workers there be able to ID an anaphylactic reaction, because things can go south very quickly,” he explained.

Recognizing Anaphylaxis

It’s estimated that 1 in 13 children has a food allergy.

The legislation Warner introduced would require schools and childcare centers to have a plan in place to train workers on how to respond and recognize symptoms for anaphylaxis, including:

  • hives
  • change in skin color
  • labored breathing
  • swelling of the lips and face.

“If you see those symptoms in a child and you’re not aware of what’s happening, call 911 immediately,” Warner said.

Elijah’s Law

The new bill is called Elijah’s law. It’s modeled after a similar bill in New York state that was adopted in 2019, after a 3-year-old boy named Elijah Silvera died of anaphylactic shock at his day care center.

Elijah was severely allergic to dairy and had a deadly reaction to a grilled cheese sandwich given to him by a worker there. After Elijah went into anaphylaxis, his family was not told what he had eaten and 911 was not called.

Elijah’s parents are now committed to training child care centers on the dangers of food allergies.

If it’s adopted in Pennsylvania, it would be the third state nationwide to pass Elijah’s Law, following New York and Illinois.

“I hope that it can save a life,” Warner said.

He hopes to see Elijah’s Law come up for a vote in the Pennsylvania state legislature sometime next year.