Patient Story: Why Minutes Count with Anaphylaxis

If you or a loved one is suffering from an anaphylaxis emergency, MINUTES MATTER! Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis; immediate administration is essential to saving lives. In this article Sandra Fusco-Walker, a patient advocate for over twenty years, shares her story of when her husband, who had no previous history of life-threatening allergies, suffered an attack of anaphylaxis. Her story is an important reminder that MINUTES MATTER!

Patient Story: Why Minutes Count with Anaphylaxis

Black Woman Injecting Epinephrine

By Sandra Fusco-Walker

As a patient advocate for 20+ years, I’ve met so many families who have lost loved ones to anaphylaxis. Those who died had one thing in common. They didn’t use epinephrine. Either they weren’t aware they had a severe allergy and never had a prescription, they forgot to carry it, or they thought they did not need it anymore.

National guidelines emphasize epinephrine is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis. Using it  makes the difference between life and death … and minutes count.

My mantra as an advocate was always, “When in doubt, give the shot!” The medication won’t harm you if you really don’t need it – but anaphylaxis will, and it just might save your life.

In the back of my mind, I wondered about the qualifier that medical professionals added when I asked about safety … “Epinephrine won’t kill them, but if they have a weak heart, maybe an older person – epinephrine might be a problem.”

On July 19, 2014, I knelt beside my 63-year-old husband, Scott, the only one in our family with no history of allergies or anaphylaxis. He was writhing on the ground drenched in sweat. He was retching and barely conscious 10 minutes after some yellow jackets stung him.

I held an epinephrine auto-injector in my hand and hesitated. Even though all the symptoms were there, right in front of me, I started questioning myself. Should I wait for the ambulance? Should I give him the shot? Is his heart strong?

I remembered the ending to those conversations about safety – “If they’re already dying from anaphylaxis, a heart attack doesn’t really matter, does it?” – and I plunged the device into my husband’s thigh. I counted off 13, my lucky number.

As I pulled the device away, I watched the red rash on Scott’s arms solidify to blotches. Ten minutes later, EMTs arrived with more epinephrine and gave him a second shot. By the time Scott entered the emergency room, he was lobster red from his head to his feet. Except for his fingers and toes – they looked black, apparently from the lack of oxygen in his blood.

The emergency department team worked their magic. Later the doctor told us it was the quick use of epinephrine that saved Scott’s life.

We are grateful to everyone who taught us so much at Allergy & Asthma Network. I’m especially grateful to those families who, despite their grief, bravely shared their experience in the hope that others wouldn’t lose their loved ones, too.

Your message was loud and clear. And it saved a life.

Sandra retired from Allergy & Asthma Network as Director of Government Affairs in 2013 and presently volunteers for the Network as a consumer advocate on the FDA's Pharmacy Compounding Advisory Board.

Sandra J. Fusco-Walker
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