Epi Near You New York Volunteers Spread the Word on Anaphylaxis

Educating the general public about preventing anaphylaxis is one of the main goals of the Allergy Advocacy Association. We are actively recruiting volunteers from the medical field to assist us in providing training to day care center teachers, recreation center staff, scouting organizations and school of nursing students, and are very appreciative of the volunteers we have thus far. This month we are spotlighting two of our volunteers who have had close calls with anaphylaxis themselves, so we hope this will inspire others to join us!

Damien Rzepka with daughter
Damien Rzepka with daughter
Sandy Glantz
Sandy Glantz

Epi Near You New York Volunteers Spread the Word on Anaphylaxis

By Suzanne Driscoll
May 7th, 2019

Your Allergy Advocacy Association is fortunate to have so many great volunteers for our Epi Near You New York anaphylaxis emergency training program. Many of them are from the healthcare field who donate their time and talents to training a variety of audiences in the Rochester area. They educate teachers at daycare centers, nursing students, and counselors at summer camps and recreation centers on the dangers of anaphylaxis and how to administer epinephrine. This month we would like to spotlight two of our volunteers, Damien Rzepka and Sandra Glantz. If you are interested in becoming one of our ENYNY trainers, please give Jon Terry a call at 585-319-6848.

Damien Rzepka

With five children and a busy job, Damien Rzepka does not have a lot of free time. But after speaking with Jon Terry at various luncheons he sponsored around town, Damien decided to volunteer as an Allergy Advocacy Association trainer. “I am very allergic to bee stings and being a big outdoors person this is scary and dangerous for me,” says Damien. “If I can help in any way to save just one person’s life, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Damien started his career as a teacher and competitive skier. But after tearing his ACL three times involving a one-year recovery for each, he got to know people in the medical field quite well. “I decided that healthcare was where I belonged,” Damien recalls. He worked as a Patient Care Technician and Respiratory Therapist Technician at the University of Rochester Medical Center and is now a Urological Medical Assistant for the Center for Urology in Rochester. On top of everything else he is pursuing a Bio-Medical degree at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The first time Damien experienced anaphylaxis was after being stung by a bee. “I know I’d been stung before when I was a kid, but this time I knew I was in trouble. An ambulance was called and they had to put an IV in me immediately since my blood pressure was skyrocketing and my whole body was going into shock. I received epinephrine right then and there. Since then I’ve been stung a bunch of times and carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EAI) device pack with me everywhere.”

Damien is looking forward to his first training session at a daycare center at the end of May. “Most people are not aware of the dangers of anaphylaxis, and making a lightbulb go off in their head will be very rewarding. As allergies are becoming more prevalent, we need to continue to push for laws that will help protect those with life-threatening allergies.

“I have to hand it to Jon Terry for his bravery and fortitude in starting the Association and for accomplishing so much in a relatively short period of time. It’s really mind blowing.”

Sandra Glantz, MSN, MPA, FNP-BC

Sandra Glantz is a retired Family Nurse Practitioner with over 30 years’ experience in primary care. As a long-time member of The Nurse Practitioner Association of New York State, she received an email with a request from the Allergy Advocacy Association for clinicians to provide training on avoiding anaphylaxis and how to administer epinephrine. “Having developed serious food allergies to sesame, almonds and macadamia nuts within the past three years, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to help other people.”

Sandra’s medical practice focused on adolescents and young adults, primarily, and includes intensive care, college health, occupational health and reproductive health care services for both men and women. “Allergies are a major thing for this age group, including asthma and serious reactions even if it’s not full-blown anaphylaxis,” says Sandra. She has taught many nurse practitioner students over the years, and her first lesson for them was always about the recognition and treatment of allergic reactions, especially anaphylaxis, in the clinical setting. “Bee stings, food allergies and reactions to medications are so common today that it’s important for everyone to know what to do in an emergency.”

Around age 40, Sandy noticed she needed Benadryl whenever she was around certain cats, and handling chrysanthemums gave her an asthma-like cough. She was also told she was allergic to shellfish after eating it in a French restaurant and experiencing hives, a tight throat and a cough. “In the emergency room no one gave me epinephrine, just albuterol, prednisone and Benadryl,” Sandra recalls. And before I could get an appointment to see an allergist and be tested for other foods, we had booked a trip to Hawaii and I was afraid to eat anything there.”

About 2 ½ years ago she experienced her first serious attack of anaphylaxis. “I had eaten some multigrain bread that must have contained sesame and almonds. Within 20 minutes I was coughing with my eyes tearing and puffing up. Fortunately I was with my younger daughter who is a nurse and we were only a block from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. We had to call for an ambulance and I was surprised that they only gave me Benadryl in the truck and not epinephrine, but I was unable to talk. And no one gave me epi at the hospital until they had set up all the lines. Today I carry two epinephrine auto-injector (EAI) devices with me at all times and am very careful as to what I eat.”

Sandy enjoyed her first training session for the Gates Recreation Center staff recently, and a couple of attendees had some experience with epinephrine as they had allergies themselves or a family member did. Others wanted to know more about the symptoms to look for in a person experiencing anaphylaxis. The Program Director there told the staff that two kids who come to the center in the summer have serious allergies, and it was suggested that they wear a wristband or bracelet so that all employees are aware of the situation.

Organizations such as the Gates Recreation Center appreciate the fact that the Allergy Advocacy Association’s training is free, as the Red Cross and other agencies charge for the service.

Sandra will be joining the Allergy Advocacy Association for their Awareness Day on May 15 in Albany in order to help educate our legislators. She would like to see legislation that requires sesame be one of the ingredients that food manufacturers must list on every label, which will hopefully happen this summer. “Also every organization that stocks epinephrine should have someone responsible for checking expiration dates and ensuring it is stored at the proper temperature.

“Ten percent of students are homeschooled because of their allergies and that is a shame. My grandson has a peanut allergy, so I want to help make sure that he and all other kids stay safe.”

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