On this final Friday of National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and Kids With Food Allergies (KFA), our food allergy division, are holding a Remembrance Day in honor of family members and loved ones who’ve died from asthma or allergies.
On average, more than 3,500 Americans die from asthma each year.1 An estimated 200 also die each year because of severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis [anna-fih-LACK-sis].2 These death rates from asthma and allergies have mostly stayed the same for decades. We believe these are numbers that shouldn’t exist.
AAFA is dedicated to saving lives. On this day, we reflect on our mission to continue to improve the lives of people living with asthma and allergies while working to make death rates nonexistent.
This is the first year of AAFA’s Remembrance Day. In the years ahead, we will devote the last Friday of National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month to the memory of lives unexpectedly lost to asthma or allergies. We hope this is a tradition that will grow. In talking about these rates, we are reminded of the dire need to take immediate action as a community to finally move the numbers downward.
So we dedicate today as a time to share our stories to celebrate lives well lived and to continue to make a difference in honor of the people who live in our hearts forever.
AAFA is blowing bubbles today to remember lives lost. We encourage you to join us. Here are some ways you can show your respects:
- Blow bubbles in memoriam: Share a photo on social media blowing bubbles or of a loved one using the hashtag #AsthmaAwareness or #AllergyAwareness and tag @AAFANational.
- Write a poem, draw a picture, take a photograph of something your loved one would find beautiful, or sing or write a song using the hashtag #AsthmaAwareness or #AllergyAwareness and tag @AAFANational.
- Share a memory of a loved one in the comments below, or join our AAFA or KFA communities and share your memories on our forums.
- Send a card in the mail, make a phone call, or drop a text to friends or family to share support and fond memories.
- Make a donation to support AAFA’s work in memory of a loved one.
Here are some we’ve lost to asthma and allergies and their advocates who are raising awareness in their honor. Our hearts are with them and everyone today who has lost loved ones from asthma and allergies.
In 2017, 3-year-old Elijah went to his New York City day care like any other day. Even though the staff knew of his multiple food allergies – including milk – they gave him a grilled cheese sandwich. They did not follow his Anaphylaxis Action Plan, and Elijah died from an allergic reaction.
Elijah’s parents, Thomas Silvera and Dina Hawthorne-Silvera formed the Elijah-Alavi Foundation in his honor. They work to raise food allergy awareness and the critical need for education and training. In 2019, New York passed Elijah’s Law. The bill requires early education/children’s day care programs to follow state guidelines for prevention and response to anaphylaxis. AAFA supported the Elijah-Alavi Foundation in getting legislation passed in New York Illinois and continues to back efforts to get versions of the bill passed in other states. (Illinois’ legislature just passed Elijah’s Law yesterday.)
Alessandra was happily attending her twin sister’s wedding this year when she had a severe asthma attack. She was only 26 and had been planning her own future with her partner, Jeff, when her life was cut short. The family has raised more than $18,000 in her memory to support AAFA’s work to save lives and reduce the burden of disease for people with asthma.
At age 16, Austin loved to cook and learn new recipes with his father. He was a fan of comic books and his favorite football team was the Carolina Panthers. He also had asthma. One night in 2016, he had a serious asthma attack that left him unconscious. He passed a few days later.
Since then, his mother, Meredith Dodds, has made it her mission to educate other people about asthma. She founded the MyHope4Austin Organization. She hosts asthma awareness workshops at schools and annual awareness walks and fundraisers. AAFA proudly supports the organization by providing asthma education resources and materials.
In 2016, Laura had an asthma attack. She went to a Massachusetts hospital emergency room but could not find the correct entrance due to improper signage. She tried a door directly outside the emergency room, but it was locked. At age 34, she died from the asthma attack outside the hospital.
Knowing Laura would want something meaningful to come from her death, her husband, Peter DeMarco, has been fighting on her behalf to get legislation passed that requires proper signage outside of every Massachusetts hospital to ensure emergency rooms are easy to find. On Jan. 15, 2021, Massachusetts’ governor signed “Laura’s Law.” AAFA is proud to have worked closely with Peter by sharing her story, testifying, and offering letters of support for this legislation. This is the first-of-its-kind law setting standards for signage, lighting, and security monitoring outside of emergency room doors. Other states are considering similar laws.
Ahmad’s daughter, Anela, is a popular food and travel writer who also has a connection to food allergies and asthma. At 56, her father, Ahmad Malik, died of an asthma attack. He had asthma all his life. On Instagram, she shared how her dad, who became an activist, was barred from care at a whites-only hospital during an asthma attack as a child because he was Black. This nearly killed him then. Structural racism continued to play a role in management of asthma throughout his life.
When Anela writes, she often includes the need for health equity into what she shares with her reading audience and online community. Anela advocates for legislation that can help bridge the racial and ethnic disparities gap in allergies and asthma. AAFA and Anela recently teamed up to meet with office of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) during AAFA’s “Zoom-In on Health Equity.”
Nicola was 70 when he passed on Feb. 20, 2021. His family is holding a fundraiser in his honor with a goal of $5,000 to donate toward asthma and allergy education, support, and the reduction of asthma disparities.
Tiffany was a spirited eighth grader who loved sports. She was only 13 when she collapsed while running on her school’s track because of an unexpected asthma attack in 2014. Her family contributed to asthma awareness through their #idoit4tiff fundraiser. The family continues to advocate on behalf of people living with asthma.
The love story of Valerie and Jordan came to a sad, needless end when her 30-year-old husband, Jordan, passed from asthma. He woke in the middle of the night struggling to breathe. After a night in the emergency room, he was sent home, only to have his symptoms reappear four days later. At 1:20 a.m., Valerie woke to find her husband having another asthma attack. He was gone five minutes later.
Valerie now fiercely advocates on Jordan’s behalf to save other people from asthma. She is sounding the alarm on racial and ethnic asthma disparities. AAFA supports Valerie’s mission by amplifying her story and working together recently during AAFA’s “Zoom-In on Health Equity.”
Emily Vonder Meulen
Emily was 13 when she died from anaphylaxis back in 2006. She had eaten a sandwich at a mall – a sandwich she had safely many times before. She also had asthma, so she mistook the signs of anaphylaxis for an asthma attack. Emily tried to treat her symptoms with her inhaler instead of epinephrine.
Her parents, Paul and Catrina, have worked over the years to raise awareness about knowing how to recognize and treat anaphylaxis when you also have asthma. They have been long-time advocates and supporters of KFA. They have provided financial support to help us share anaphylaxis-asthma education over the years.
The people we’ve mentioned here are just a small number of lost to asthma or allergies. AAFA staff talks almost daily to families who have lost loved ones, helping them through the grief that comes with the sudden death of a loved one from asthma or allergy. It’s our deepest hope to keep more of these tragedies from happening to others.
2. Fatal anaphylaxis in the United States, 1999-2010: Temporal patterns and demographic associations – Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (jacionline.org)