Peek's Perspective: Food allergies no laughing matter
Tuesday, January 30 2018, 14:24

Peek’s Perspective by Dewain E. Peek

Sometimes a “prank” is not just a prank. Sometimes it can be deadly serious.

Last week, three teenage girls in Pennsylvania were charged with intentionally exposing a 14 year-old girl to pineapple, a food she was allergic to. When I heard it was food allergy related, that got my attention. So, I went online to listen to the KDKA-TV report.

On December 15, 2017, the Butler Intermediate School student was lured into a game in which another 14 year-old girl slapped her with a pineapple-coated high-five, according to KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.

Lt. Matthew Pearson of Butler Township Police Department told KDKA, “The main defendant put some on her hand. They conjured up a game, a plan to expose her through high-fiving her.”

The girl was immediately taken for treatment and has recovered, according to the TV report. Police told KDKA that the girl could have gone into anaphylactic shock, which if not treated properly and quickly, she could have died.

Now the high-fiving 14 year-old is charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person, and another 14 year-old girl and a 13 year-old girl face similar charges for assisting in the assault, according to KDKA.

Police told the TV station that Butler Intermediate High School does not serve pineapple in the cafeteria because of the student’s allergy. Allegedly, one of the girls had brought a container of pineapple in her packed lunch.

KDKA interviewed an attorney about the charges, and he down-played the situation, saying, “I liken this to a prank and a prank does not rise to the level of intentionally harming somebody where they can die.”

Hold on a minute, hoss. People do die from food allergies. Anaphylactic shock is real.

KDKA stated the attorney is the father of a 14 year-old. I wonder, would he be so nonchalant about it if his child were to die from a “prank” perpetrated by a classmate. It’s easy to blow it off when it is not your kid being harmed.

He also said in the interview, “The pineapple was not illegally brought in. It’s not a weapon. It’s not any of those things. It’s a fruit cup. And can you intentionally and knowingly kill somebody with a fruit cup? I don’t think adults could make that decision let alone 14 year-olds.”

Oh, but I object, counselor. Any prosecutor worth his pay would quickly dispel this defense by merely pointing out that a shard of glass resting on the ground is not a weapon, but a shard of glass picked up and plunged into a person’s carotid artery is very much a weapon. Anything used to intentionally inflict physical harm on someone can be considered a weapon.

Allergies attack the body from within and can do mortal damage. I know how frightening a food allergy can be. I have faced my mortality with a food allergy over the past few years. It changes the way you look at your food. And this came on me after 50-plus years on this planet, having eaten this particular food item with no adverse affects until recent years.

The cause of my affliction would cause me to sneeze when I came into contact with it in its raw state, but when processed or cooked it never bothered me – until one night my skin started feeling hot and itching and my hands started to swell.

My wife had to drive me to the ER because my hands were so swollen, and I feared my throat could close. I had no idea what had caused it, but I knew it was an allergic reaction to something. After some time in the hospital waiting room, I was finally taken back into the ER and given a shot of epinephrine. The ill effects began to fade.

I knew what I had eaten that day, but I really had no idea what could have caused the reaction.

After that, I started keeping liquid Benadryl on hand. A few months later, it came in handy.

After an Independence Day cook-out, it struck again. As I got ready for bed – it seems to take hours for it to absorb into my system – I again started feeling itchy and hot, and my skin started puffing up in pockets. I took some of the Benadryl, and within an hour, it started to diminish.

I looked into the ingredients of the only new item we had eaten that day, and I suspected it was one of the ingredients in the potato salad.

More time passed without any incident, because I tried to be careful to avoid this food item, still only having had a problem with it in its natural state. Then I had some hamburgers with a particular item on it, an item that had never caused me problems before.

But after eating one of the burgers, I got worried that my allergy may be progressing and if what I suspected was indeed the culprit, then it was an ingredient in what was on the burger. So I took the item off the second burger, and figured there hadn’t been enough of it, and it was processed, so it shouldn’t hurt me. But it did. Another night of hot skin, puffed up in pockets and itching. More Benadryl.

After more research, I found that I am among a mere 2% of the U.S. population to be allergic to this particular food item. How discomforting to be allergic to something most people love and have never heard of anyone being allergic to.

So, I understand the girl with the pineapple allergy. I have never heard of it, but I understand it. I live it. Since identifying the source of my allergy, I avoid it whenever I can. But I too fear coming into contact with it unknowingly, so I do tell restaurant workers, friends, and family members. But otherwise, I keep it on a “need to know” basis.

It is a sad thing that teenagers would pull a “prank” that could cause the victim a hospital visit, or at worst, the family to visit the funeral home. But in a world where teenagers have to be told not to eat Tide pods, I guess it proves stunted mental growth in many of today’s youths.

I hope this girl’s story gets national coverage. Maybe it will keep others from pulling similar “pranks” that are just not funny.