Jess Prinsloo had a severe dairy allergy since she was nine months old. The 24-year-old had many scary encounters with dairy, including when she was 18 and had to be resuscitated after ingesting milk in curry. But only days after getting engaged to the love of her life, Craig McKinnon, 24, she suffered another reaction after using the wrong spoon to stir her tea. This time, she couldn’t be resuscitated, and McKinnon had to stop planning their wedding to start planning her funeral.
Their Dream Proposal
The couple had gone on their dream holiday in South Africa. On December 27, McKinnon proposed to Prinsloo at the beautiful God’s Window viewpoint in Mpumalanga. He had planned this moment to be special for her. “Lots of her family live in South Africa and she hadn’t been back in six years, so I knew there was no better place to propose,” he said. “My voice cracked as I got down on one knee and asked, ‘Will you marry me?’ She said, ‘Oh my God’ and started crying before she said yes. The look on her face… it meant everything.” 
The couple celebrated their engagement together for several days. Then, on December 30, they visited Prinsloo’s mother in Johannesburg. That was where she accidentally stirred her cup of tea with a spoon that had traces of dairy. After drinking it, she went into anaphylaxis, a reaction where her throat closed and breathing became difficult. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital, where she passed away one day later — on New Year’s Eve.
McKinnon, aware of this severe allergy, always carried two EpiPens with him in case she had a reaction. But this time, they weren’t enough to save her. “When Jess died, a part of me died too – but there is no one to blame for her passing away,” he said. “But, God, she’d had several near-misses.”
A Severe Allergic Reaction
On that fateful day, he was woken up by his fiancée’s brother, Darren, who told him she was having an allergic reaction. McKinnon recalled, “Jess was sitting on the toilet lid, really struggling to breathe. She had used an EpiPen, but it wasn’t having the effect it normally has.” McKinnon theorizes that all of her previous encounters with dairy had cumulated and made treatment less effective.
She had told him about her previous experiences with her dairy allergy, including her severe reaction to milk in curry when she was 18. “Another time, she ordered a vegan dessert which shouldn’t have had dairy and she needed antihistamines, an EpiPen, and a hospital trip. I haven’t eaten dairy for about three years because it just wasn’t worth the risk.”
After her passing, McKinnon owed £3,700 in medical bills and £1,200 in coroner’s fees. Friends of the family created a GoFundMe page to help cover these expenses as well as the costs of her funeral, which took place in South Africa on January 6. McKinnon returned to his home in the UK on January 16 with his fiancée’s ashes. The couple had met in university in 2019 and moved in together in 2021, after lockdown regulations ended.
McKinnon hopes to teach others about the potential severity of allergic reactions. He said, “It is something people cannot control and it can kill them. I just want people to listen and understand how serious this is.”
Anaphylaxis UK released a statement about this tragedy. “Jess’s death is incredibly tragic and our thoughts are with her fiancé Craig and her family and friends,” said Simon Williams, Chief Executive of Anaphylaxis UK. “We would like to offer them our support should they wish to get in touch.” 
What is a Dairy Allergy?
Dairy allergy is an abnormal immune response to all milk products. It’s usually a reaction to cow’s milk, but other mammals’ milk could also trigger a reaction, such as sheep or goat’s milk. It’s a very common allergy for children; some grow out of it. Symptoms of a milk allergy vary, but they usually occur soon after ingesting the dairy.
They can range from mild to severe, including signs like hives, wheezing, puking, and digestive issues. A severe milk allergy could cause anaphylaxis, a response that can be life-threatening. The primary treatment for a milk allergy is avoiding dairy products. 
Some symptoms appear immediately up to a few hours after consuming dairy. These include vomiting, hives, shortness of breath, coughing, and itching and/or swelling around the mouth and throat. Other symptoms may appear a little later, like watery eyes, runny nose, abdominal cramps, diarrhea (that may contain blood), and colic in babies. This is not to be confused with dairy intolerance or lactose intolerance.
Allergies come from the immune system while intolerances do not, and can require a different treatment. Signs of intolerance often include digestive issues like gas, bloating, and loose stools after eating foods with dairy. Meanwhile, anaphylaxis is a severe reaction and a medical emergency. It typically needs to be treated with an adrenaline shot followed by medical treatment and observation.
These signs include itching, flushing in the face, swollen thoat that constricts airways, and shock. If you experience any symptoms of a dairy allergy, speak to your doctor or an allergist about a diagnosis. But if there’s signs of anaphylaxis, seek emergency medical help.
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- “Bride-to-be, 24, dies days after proposal after using wrong spoon to stir her tea” Wales Online. January 22, 2023.
- “Statement regarding the death of Jess Prinsloo.” Anaphylaxis UK. February 6, 2023
- “Milk Allergy.” Mayo Clinic. June 16, 2022