The death of a 19-year-old college student has served as a somber reminder of the extreme danger that food allergies can pose.
Cameron Groezinger-Fitzpatrick, a Bryant University freshman, died on March 8 after eating half of a cookie. The teen, described in his obituary as an "outgoing" athlete with a promising future, had not known that the baked good had contained peanuts.
At the age of 8, Groezinger-Fitzpatrick was diagnosed with a severe nut allergy. Since then, the young man had reportedly been extremely cautious about the food he ate. But last week, while home in Plymouth, Mass., for spring break, a friend offered him a cookie, and he decided on a whim to eat it.
"It just was given to them and they thought it was safe to have it. He inquired a few times: do you think it’s alright to eat it? You don’t smell peanut butter or anything. But somebody who doesn’t have nut allergies wouldn’t necessarily know,” mom Robin Fitzpatrick told WCVB-TV, stressing that she doesn't blame her son's friend for giving him the snack.
Within minutes of eating the cookie, which had either contained peanut butter or peanut oil, the teen was "doubled over and turning black and blue," ABC News writes. Despite an attempt to alleviate the teen's symptoms with an epinephrine autoinjector and two hours of CPR in the emergency room, Groezinger-Fitzpatrick died a few hours later.
"We were all so shocked, it came out of nowhere," his mother told ABC News. "For 19 years, he had been knock-on-wood safe."
Groezinger-Fitzpatrick's funeral was held on Thursday.
Though devastated, Robin Fitzpatrick says she hopes her son's death will serve as a reminder to others of how dangerous food allergies can be.
“Be your biggest advocate always if you have any kind of an allergy. Please don’t take it for granted. Always inquire, always ask, don’t just go on other people’s say so. Really truly be your biggest advocate,” she told WCVB.
Food allergies affect "up to 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children," according to data found on Food Allergy Research & Education's website.
And the number of children affected by food allergies appears to be rising.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies in children under the age of 18 increased by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.
In 2010, a survey conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, found that the percentage of kids with peanut allergies in particular had more than tripled in just over a decade.
"These results show that there is an alarming increase in peanut allergies, consistent with a general, although less dramatic, rise in food allergies among children in studies reported by the CDC," Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, who led the study, said in a news release at the time. "The data underscore the need for more study of these dangerous allergies."
For more information on food allergies, go to Food Allergy Research & Education's website.