MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Parents of a 22-year-old Anoka County man are speaking out through their grief.
Brian and Beth Kelly’s son, Bruce, died Monday after an intense reaction to a peanut allergy.
Bruce had eaten chocolates from a box that did not contain peanuts — but was manufactured at a factory that used peanuts in other products.
He had eaten some of the same chocolates only days earlier without experiencing any negative reaction.
“He was just always very scared, you know, very cautious,” Beth said. “He didn’t just disregard candy bar labels.”
Now as the grieving parents thumb through childhood photos of their kids, emotions span between happiness and heartache.
“He loved doing stuff with us still, even at 22,” she said.
The Kellys knew from the time their twin boys were toddlers that they were allergic to peanuts. The family and their boys did everything right to stay peanut-free, and Bruce was normally so cautious.
“Something happened in that truck on that 20-minute ride to his dad’s and he had no phone. You know, he must have been so scared,” Beth said.
Bruce consumed chocolates from a box at Beth’s house for several days with no obvious problems. But Monday was different.
After he left his mother’s Ramsey home, Bruce drove to his father’s house in Coon Rapids about 20 minutes away.
When he arrived, he thought he was having an asthma attack, which he also fought from time to time. As a carpenter, he worked out in the cold and had experienced symptoms the previous month.
“When he got to my house, out of the truck, he was already gasping for air. He thought it was his asthma, and so he asked for his inhaler,” Brian said.
Brian and his other son, Ryan, administered epinephrine, but Bruce had already gone into cardiac arrest.
Paramedics arrived minutes later and were unsuccessful in reviving Bruce.
“It’s easy to ignore a false signal,” Dr. John Sweet, a physician at Hennepin County Medical Center, said.
Sweet specializes in allergies, and he advises parents of children or adults with allergies to always carry two doses of epinephrine — administered through an injection using an EpiPen.
“It’s because minutes matter,” Sweet said. “An EpiPen can stop an allergic reaction within minutes.”
In their grief, Brian and Beth can only hope their tragedy is a warning to others.
“It’s going to be hard, very hard to live without my son, our son,” Beth said. “We’re always going to be looking for him.”
Foods containing possible allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, wheat and soy products must be labeled by law. However, even if a particular food item is believed safe, often times it was made in a facility that uses allergens in other products.
That advisory label is strictly voluntary and can lead to false sense of safety, which is something the Kellys hope will change.