OHSU Patient Survives Near-Death Allergy Reaction

07/13/00    Portland, Ore.

OHSU Urges The Public To Be More Aware Of Common Allergies And Their Consequences

Two minutes away from the emergency department at Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital and gasping for breath, Laurie Ogden turned to her husband, "I'm not going to make it. They're not going to be able to revive me," she said. Bryan Ogden, D.V.M., shudders as he recalls the last words his wife spoke to him before she stopped breathing and lapsed into unconsciousness. His foot pressing hard on the accelerator, he replied "Yes they can, they know what they're doing."

Just minutes earlier, at a cocktail party, Laurie had bit into an egg roll that contained less than half a peanut and had rapidly entered a state of anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is triggered by an allergen and is an acute systemic reaction that affects the entire body. Laurie had always been allergic to peanuts but usually only reacted with a mild asthma attack that her inhaler cleared up. On this particular night however, April 28, 2000, her inhaler had no effect and she wasn't carrying her precautionary epinephrine shot. Half an hour later, Laurie was without a pulse.

Every year in the United States approximately 125 people die as a result of food induced anaphylaxis, which is a severe, and often fatal, allergic reaction. Anaphylactic reactions are also caused by antibiotics, venoms, insulin, some muscle relaxants, certain drugs and other agents. The most common food allergies are from eggs, milk, nuts, legumes, fish and shellfish.

Luckily for Laurie, she was in good hands at OHSU. Carol S. Federiuk, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of emergency medicine at OHSU's School of Medicine was the treating emergency physician that Friday evening and says Laurie was the most severe case of anaphylactic shock she'd ever seen. "She was very close to death when she came in," she said.

Laurie has no memory of the incident. Her first memory is 40 hours later when she finally opened her eyes and thought, "Oh, I guess I'm alive." Today, she has almost fully recovered though her attention span remains inconsistent and she has trouble with her short-term memory.

Both of the Ogdens encourage the public to be more aware of food and other allergies. Bryan says the experience has changed his life, "I appreciate how fragile our lives are. In that flash of time when they (emergency staff) said she didn't have a pulse, I thought, what if they can't bring her back? What am I going to do?"

Anthony Montanaro, M.D., professor of medicine, (allergy & clinical immunology) at OHSU's School of Medicine, recommends the following tips:

  • If you have been advised by your doctor to carry an adrenaline or epinephrine kit then carry one with you at all times. Make sure the expiration date is current, and keep it in a cool place or it will expire faster.
  • If you do have severe allergic reactions, wear a medical bracelet.
  • Seek consultation from an allergist if your source of allergy is unknown.
  • Make sure your family, friends and acquaintances know that you are allergic and that they know what to do in the event of a reaction.
  • Keep in mind that exercise, alcohol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Motrin, aspirin, Alleve) may worsen anaphylaxis.
  • Don't eat food whose ingredients are unknown or unlisted.
  • If you do have a reaction, no matter how minimal, immediately go to the nearest hospital and seek treatment.
  • Restaurants and catering companies should make sure their servers know the ingredients of what they're serving or have the ingredients listed. Make sure the customers know if there are any kinds of nuts, fish or shellfish mixed into any of the dishes.

Note to editor: Anthony Montanaro, M.D., and Bryan Ogden, D.V.M., will be available tomorrow, Friday, July 14 from 1 - 3 p.m. for interviews.