Friend’s peanut allergy episode shows the dangers of the deadly condition

April 23, 2024 — by Andy Zhu
Graphic by Angela Tan
Junior Steven Ning regrets his choice of snacks while on the East Coast
My close friend, junior Steven Ning, who has a severe allergy to peanuts, unknowingly ate snacks that landed him in the emergency room at 2 a.m.

As an 8th grader who was stuck at home for nearly two years due to the pandemic, I was ecstatic when I heard about Redwood Middle’s annual East Coast trip. I immediately signed up, thinking that a week-long trip across the country with friends was the excitement I needed after being confined indoors for so long. Little did I know, a near-death incident on that trip would still haunt me three years later, reminding me to be thankful that all my friends came back alive.

The week started out normally, with us visiting Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and New York. Everything went as expected until we got to New York. My close friend, junior Steven Ning, and I were relaxing in our hotel room late one night with our fellow 8th grade roommates, appreciating our freedom after being supervised all day by chaperones. 

All of us had brought snacks (an essential part of our late-night talks). As we compiled our delicious assortment of chips, cookies and candies, we began hungrily tearing apart the plastic packages and munching away.  

Little did we know that our friend Steven was about to come face to face with his arch enemy. After devouring half a pack of barbeque-flavored ramen snacks, he felt tiny needles begin to prick at his skin, followed by an intense itch spreading across his entire body. Within a mere five seconds, I knew that something had gone wrong with him.

“Um, are you OK? Why is your skin so red?” I asked him.

In a panicked and trembling voice, Steven urgently asked us to check the ingredients of the ramen snacks. As I quickly scanned the list, two common allergens stood out: soy and peanuts

These are among the many foods Steven is allergic to. And in those moments in the hotel room, he had gone into anaphylaxis — a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause the body to go into shock. According to National Institutes of Health, roughly 13 people die from peanut-related anaphylaxis each year in the U.S.

While I sat with my friend in the room, my other two roommates scrambled to alert a chaperone. Minutes felt like hours as his throat closed up and his face puffed up. Finally, two teachers burst into the room and promptly attended to him.

In the next few moments, they delivered two Epi-Pen shots into Steven’s thighs, but his symptoms only worsened. As he took deeper and deeper breaths to obtain oxygen, his skin continued to deepen into an almost orange color. Though it was 2 a.m., the chaperones called 911 and took Steven away — but we weren’t sure where.

After an uneasy sleep, I woke up at 8 a.m. The first thing I did was to check if Steven was back in the hotel room. He wasn’t. Despite worries racing through my mind, I decided that there was nothing I could do but to carry on with my day.  

While leaving the American Museum of Natural History, he finally rejoined the group. A crowd quickly swarmed him to ask about what happened. With visible fatigue in his eyes, he dismissed the group with a few short responses and joined me in walking back to the bus.

“Dude, I thought I was going to die last night,” he remarked.

It turned out that Steven was rushed to the emergency room and  stayed the night at the hospital under constant monitoring. After seeing pictures of him lying on the hard hotel bed with numerous IV tubes stuck in his arms, I can confidently say that our night in New York was a traumatic experience that I will remember for a lifetime. 

I am so thankful that he was alright after that. But who am I to speak? Steven was the one who actually endured the nightmare.

“Looking back, it was my fault for being careless and not checking the ingredients before eating something,” he told me recently. “I felt something that I have never felt before and definitely do not want to feel again.”

Let this be a lesson to all of us who have friends or family members who are allergic to peanuts: Double check the ingredients and know how deadly serious mistakes can be.

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