It started with a batch of peanut butter cookies — and ended several days later with the death of a Michigan college student.
Chandler Swink, a 19-year-old Oakland University sophomore, was taken off life support Wednesday night after more than a week in an allergy-induced coma, according to the Oakland Post. His death was confirmed in a statement from the school, where Swink was an aspiring nursing student.
His family is now speaking out about the dangers of nut allergies and the need to accommodate people who have them. “I truly believe that God gave me [Chandler] for a reason,” his mother, Nancy Swink, told the Oakland Press. “So that I could fight for him.”
His father, Bill, told the Press: “You need to take your family members’ food allergies very seriously.”
Swink had been at a friend’s apartment where peanut butter cookies had been baked, the Press reported. Somehow, Swink came into contact with the cookies or their residue.
His family said he had a level six nut allergy — the most severe — since the age of 2. Once he began exhibiting a reaction last week, Swink went to his car to inject himself with adrenaline and drove himself to the hospital, Nancy Swink told the Press. He was found unconscious in the parking lot, and doctors this week had given him a 2 percent chance of survival.
Swink suffered anaphylactic shock, cardiac arrest and an asthma attack, USA Today reported.
“It’s been tough on all of us the past few days,” Swink’s cousin Mike told the university’s student newspaper, the Oakland Post. “It’s brought our family closer but we miss him so much.”
Just this week, a school board member from a nearby Detroit suburb resigned after the emergence of a video in which she is heard saying of students with nut allergies: “Just shoot them.” The Clawson School Board said in a statement that the comment was “an inappropriate attempt at humor” and “insensitive.”
Nancy Swink told the Press that for years, students and teachers had bullied her son, blaming him for food restrictions put in place to accommodate his allergy. “They would say, ‘It can’t be that bad,'” she said. “You can’t segregate people based on what they were born with.”
“Yet he never complained to us. He held that in for 18 years,” she added. “When he went to college, he was the happiest kid because he was no longer labeled. Every person who has come to visit him has said that Chandler is the most caring, generous, funny, easy going man they’ve ever met. …That’s how he’s lived his last two years.”
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $30,000 to help to with medical expenses.
Classmates and longtime friends told the university paper that Swink was careful about exposing himself to peanuts. “Even in high school, he was always very cautious, checking packages and reading labels [to check for nuts],” longtime friend Kaitlyn Martin told the university paper.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4 to 6 percent of children have food allergies and that the prevalence of food allergies increased by nearly 20 percent between 1997 and 2007. Such allergies have become the most common cause of anaphylaxis.
“Anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that may cause death,” according to the CDC, which notes that there is no cure for food allergies. “Strict avoidance of the food allergen is the only way to prevent a reaction. … Early and quick recognition and treatment of allergic reactions that may lead to anaphylaxis can prevent serious health problems or death.”