Posted on: December 16, 2016 at 4:12 pm
Last updated: September 25, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Oakley’s Story

An 11-year-old boy named Oakley died on November 24th after consuming what he thought was a plain piece of pound cake that turned out to have a walnut inside. Oakley’s mother, Merrill Debbs,  has spoken out about the incident, expressing her feelings about the importance of knowledge towards food allergies.


Merrill Debbs speaks of the tragic death of Oakley, saying that the only signs of an allergic reaction were a small blister on his lip that went away after taking a Benadryl. Debbs went on to say that after the blister had gone away, they thought Oakley was fine and ‘Whatever was going on inside of him we had no knowledge of.’ He went to the room he was sharing with his cousins.

After acting and breathing normally for around fifteen minutes, Oakley returned to his mother complaining of a sore stomach and began vomiting. Debbs presumed whatever was making him ill would go away, giving him some more Benadryl. He began to feel better.


However, a short while later he began feeling ill once more, with his breathing beginning to worsen; “He started throwing up, and from there it was a tornado of issues,” Debbs said. “We called 911. By the time the ambulance got there — about 10 minutes later— he was blue.”

An hour and a half after consuming the nut Oakley’s heart stopped, and his airways closed, causing a heart attack. He was taken to hospital swiftly in an ambulance but unfortunately died not long later.

After the death of Oakley, Merrill Debbs decided to take action to raise more awareness of the importance of food allergies. She launched The Red Sneaker Foundation to raise awareness and to bring light upon Oakley’s death, keeping the memory of him alive.

“I don’t think my beautiful, amazing, talented, adorable son should have passed away,” Debbs said, adding that she hopes to get EpiPens in all schools and nuts banned from classrooms.


About Food Allergies

Food allergies affect up to 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children (4). An allergic reaction will happen when the body mistakes harmless food proteins as an allergen, attacking it. A severe symptom of an allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis shock, where the body is breathing, and blood circulation may be affected and ‘people who suffer from asthma and a food allergy are more at risk of anaphylaxis’ (5).

There are eight main foods that cause allergic reactions:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Sesame (6)

When diagnosing an allergy, do not self-diagnose; go to your doctor and get a test done to discover if you are allergic to any food products. Many people have discovered unknown food allergies by receiving an allergen test.

How to Avoid Food Allergens

The FDA is in charge of labeling of food products, both imported and locally produced in the United States. Food labeling is an important way to find out what is in the products and there are different ways the FDA will label food to allow consumers to see what is in the food they are purchasing.

For example, if the product cannot 100% guarantee there are no nuts present, but there are none in the ingredients then the packaging might say ‘may contain nuts.’ So depending on yours or your loved one’s allergies you can avoid or consume the foods.

Although food labeling is extremely important in the controlling of allergens, it is evident that food labeling can sometimes be wrong and cause devastating allergic reactions in people.

Another way to keep an eye on allergic reactions is to make sure you monitor the person or yourself carefully if you think you have consumed something containing the allergen. If any symptoms occur it may be advised to attend the hospital or call the doctor for recommended advice or else biphasic anaphylaxis may occur without you knowing it will happen.

Biphasic anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction with two phases; the second phase can occur from 2-72 hours after consuming. The symptoms in the second reaction can either be less, equal or more than the first. This can have devastating effects, so it’s best to call the doctor in case a severe allergic reaction might take place.

What to do if someone suffers from a severe allergic reaction


If someone suffers from an allergic reaction (or if you do yourself), it is important to call the emergency services immediately. If the person or yourself also has an EpiPen it is important to source it and use it immediately, this will help relieve the symptoms until emergency services have arrived.

It may also be important to reposition the person to have them lying on their back with their legs in the air. This will increase blood flow and air circulation around the body, improving their chances of breathing.

So if you or a loved one suffer from allergens it is important to understand the severity of the allergy and to know how to react. Please consult a doctor if you suspect you or someone else may be allergic to something so you can figure out what you need to do next. After everything that Oakley and his family have gone through, the least that can be done is to spread the word about the real dangers of food allergies.

The Hearty Soul
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