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Grieving Family Says Pre-K Gave Allergic Toddler Grilled Cheese

Photograph by Twenty20

The family of Elijah Silvera says his preschool in Harlem, N.Y., knew about the 3-year-old's severe allergy to dairy. Yet he was given a grilled cheese sandwich by an adult at the school on November 3, triggering a fatal anaphylactic shock. The pediatric ER at Harlem Hospital was unable to save him.

Officials shut down the school, Seventh Avenue Center for Family Services. There is no doubt in the family's minds that Elijah's death was preventable.

"We can and must do more to protect our children from life-threatening allergic reactions in the U.S. schools," reads a GoFundMe page set up by Elijah's cousin, Liz Murray.

Staff in schools and early-care and education programs "should develop plans for preventing an allergic reaction and responding to a food allergy emergency," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reporting that food allergies affect 4 percent to 6 percent of children in the U.S. And according to the nonprofit Food Allergy Research and Education, numbers can get as high as 5.9 million children under the age of 18, or roughly two kids in every classroom. About 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.

Despite the growing prevalence and warnings, food allergies often aren't taken as seriously as they should be. Instead, parents of kids with food allergies often deal with judgmental comments or limited knowledge of how others can support them.

Hopefully, parents and educators can learn from this tragedy. Elijah's case drew national attention, and people showed their support through donations. In two days, the GoFundMe surpassed its $18,000 goal to provide financial support to Elijah's parents, Thomas and Dina, including time off work, funeral and memorial expenses and the cost of a second and independent autopsy.

"At this moment, it is unclear where responsibility for Elijah’s death will fall, between the pre-k and the hospital itself. There are protocols that both the hospital and preschool must follow. We want to find out exactly what caused Elijah’s death, and that will mean sorting out exactly where, if any, breakdowns may have occurred at either the school or the hospital. Having a third-party medical examination will ensure our ability to get a clear picture. We just want justice for Elijah," the page reads.

ABC 7 reports several agencies, including the New York City Administration for Children's Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, are also looking into the incident.

"There is nothing more important than the safety of our children and we are deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will get to the bottom of what happened here. In the meantime, we're closing the Center for Family Services and continuing to aggressively investigate what happened and whether the facility could have done something differently to prevent this tragedy," the NYC health department said in a statement released on Wednesday night.

Elijah's family is reeling from their unexpected loss of the toddler, whom they describe as sweet and joyful.

"It is an unimaginable time for everyone who loved Elijah, in particular for his 5-year-old brother, Sebastian, who struggles to understand that his brother is truly gone. We are lost," the family says.

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