A partnership between Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health (IACH) and Nashville-based company LifeReach has culminated with the installation of Anaphylaxis Emergency Kits (AEKs) around campus that will dramatically improve the university’s ability to respond to the rising number of life-threatening anaphylactic shock incidents.
The AEKs, which contain both adult and juvenile epinephrine auto-injectors, will eventually be at the following locations:
- Daniel Dining Hall
- McAlister Auditorium
- Younts Conference Center
- Furman Golf Course clubhouse
- The Paladen in the Trone Student Center
- The Library Café
- Child Development Center
In addition, all Furman police vehicles will be equipped with AEKs, and 57 people have been trained to recognize the symptoms of anaphylactic shock and use the injectors. Epinephrine is the only treatment that can reverse an anaphylactic response.
Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction in which the immune system releases chemicals that can potentially block airways and stop the heart. IACH associate director Susan Ybarra ’92 believes no school in the country is as prepared as Furman to deal with the threat.
“We are to our knowledge the first institution of higher education to … have non-designated epinephrine auto injectors on campus available for use,” she said.
The prevalence of food allergies in children has increased 50 percent in the United States since 1997, but legal barriers in South Carolina prevented entities like Furman from stocking and administering epinephrine. When the door finally opened with the passage of the Emergency Anaphylaxis Treatment Act in 2016, IACH and LifeReach were quick to step through it.
LifeReach was co-founded by Carol Len Frist Portis ’92, who graduated with Ybarra and has a son with life-threatening allergies. LifeReach’s AEKs were the first approved provider of undesignated stock epinephrine by the South Carolina Department of Health Environmental Control.
“The increase (in food allergies) is very significant in the kids that will have their first experience with a life-threatening reaction when they’re older,” Ybarra said.
Having epinephrine quickly accessible is particularly important on a college campus, according to IACH post-baccalaureate fellow Madison Ritter ’17, who worked closely with Ybarra to implement the campaign.
Approximately 25 percent of people who suffer from life-threatening allergies don’t know it, and those who do often engage in risky behavior by not carrying their prescribed EpiPens. College-aged males are especially likely to do this.
“Food allergies are the No. 1 cause of anaphylactic shock,” said Ritter, who will start the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville in July after earning a neuroscience degree from Furman. “High school students are much more likely to undergo anaphylaxis and also have fatalities from anaphylaxis.”
Portis approached Ybarra soon after the legislation passed, and in the fall of 2017 Ybarra and Ritter led a week-long student awareness campaign culminating in a CLP event featuring a panel of allergy experts.
“We learned a lot that week, and that’s when we got really excited because that’s when we realized how big of a need it is on this campus. During that week we had 13 students self-disclose to us that they have life-threatening allergies,” Ybarra said. “And it was a great opportunity to partner with an alum, to partner with the community, and so we started to move forward.”
After seeing how well the program works at Furman, Ybarra hopes the collaboration will continue on a larger scale. A community action task force has been convened to consider making Greenville the first city in the country to comprehensively address anaphylaxis.
In the meantime, Ybarra takes satisfaction in knowing the IACH, established in 2016, is fulfilling its mission to address community health while easing a lot of parents’ minds.
“We can’t take everything away in the world, so if we can make these environments safer then that is much better for everyone involved,” she said. “As a mom of college kids, I get that. You want them to go out and live their lives and not be afraid.”