In 2012, a 20-year-old Quebec woman with severe peanut allergies kissed her new boyfriend and died, not knowing he had just eaten peanuts. Years later, her family is sharing their tragedy as a cautionary tale to raise awareness about the deadliness of allergies.
Myriam Ducre-Lemay hadn’t told her new boyfriend about her peanut allergies, according to her mother, Micheline Ducre, who talked to Le Journal de Quebec about her daughter. It was her first time opening up about the incident with the press since the tragedy.
“We had met a few days before and she had announced to me that she was in a new relationship with a boy. At that time everything seemed fine for her. She told me that she was in love. That was the first time I saw her eyes so sparkling,” Ducre said.
Ducre-Lemay’s boyfriend ate a slice of bread with peanut butter before joining her for bedtime. He brushed his teeth and they exchanged a few kisses.
“Unfortunately, she hadn’t had the time to tell him that she was allergic to peanuts,” Ducre told the newspaper.
READ MORE: Peanuts for babies? Starting early may prevent allergies later on, study suggests
Her daughter went into anaphylactic shock immediately, the newspaper said. She didn’t have her Epipen but relied on her asthma inhaler while her boyfriend called 911 in a panic. She wasn’t wearing a Medic-Alert bracelet outlining her allergies either.
Ducre-Lemay was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish since she was three years old, according to the report.
It took eight minutes for paramedics to arrive. They couldn’t resuscitate her, they couldn’t intubate her and multiple Epipen doses didn’t help her cause, a coroner’s report that was released by 2014 read. It suggested that Ducre-Lemay thought that her allergies had subsided.
Ducre received a phone call at 5 a.m. She said her daughter always carried her Epipen on her and “everyone” knew about her allergies.
READ MORE: 5 common food allergies – How much is enough to trigger a reaction?
While it’s every parent’s nightmare, Dr. Christine McCusker says Ducre-Lemay’s death is a wakeup call for families with kids who have allergies.
McCusker is the head of pediatric allergy and immunology at Montreal Children’s Hospital. Typically, allergic reactions from just trace amounts of allergens are rare in her hospital emergency room, but when they come up, they’re worst case scenario situations. She said.
“The take home message is that people with allergies need to be willing to disclose them. It should not be something to be ashamed of and they should be telling friends and anyone they’re going to be intimate with,” she told Global News.
“They have to be responsible and carry their Epipen and have it within reach,” she said.
McCusker pointed to a 2005 incident in which a 15-year-old girl, Christina Desforges of Sauenay, Que., died after she kissed her boyfriend who ate peanut butter hours earlier.
READ MORE: What doctors are warning parents about allergies and asthma in kids
Turns out, her death was tied to a severe asthma attack while traces of an active ingredient in marijuana was found in her system.
Her death made global headlines and prompted scientists to study how long peanut proteins can stay in saliva after a meal, McCusker said.
The researchers found that peanut proteins could be detected for about four hours after eating. If they brushed their teeth, proteins lingered in the mouth for about 30 minutes.
“The problem is for certain allergens, peanuts being one of them, we don’t have a safe threshold of a level you can tolerate. Everyone has a different threshold and that can vary based on your state of health at the time when you’re exposed,” McCusker explained.
Death from a severe allergic reaction can kick in fast, she warned. In some patients, they could feel their throat constricting, their intestines could become inflamed causing a steep drop in blood pressure, or lungs could go into a massive asthmatic attack and close down.
READ MORE: Can pesticides trigger allergic reactions? They did in a rare Canadian case
“They can go from feeling something funny like their tongue is itching to not being able to breathe really quickly — within minutes,” McCusker said.
Researchers suggest that it’s teens and young adults — about 15 to 25 years old — who face the highest risk of going into anaphylactic shock. McCusker said it’s because this age group takes on risky behaviour, such as trying foods that aren’t vetted in advance or leaving their Epipen at home.