Thanksgiving is a season eagerly anticipated by many due to the opportunity it provides to spend quality time with family and friends – people we appreciate and value in our lives. Yet, for one family, Thanksgiving will be a stark reminder of a tragic incident that turned a day of joy and love into one filled with inconsolable sorrow.
An unfortunate event led to the premature passing of Oakley Debbs, a young boy of just 11 years old. A single, ill-fated decision, coupled with a lack of timely assistance from his parents, resulted in a devastating loss. Now, Oakley resides in the heavens, leaving behind grieving parents who will forever mourn the untimely loss of their beloved son.
As part of the Thanksgiving preparations, the family was keen on perfecting every detail. They had placed the turkey in the oven and ordered an assortment of scrumptious desserts to present to their guests. Little did they anticipate that this basket of goodies, especially a certain cake within it, would lead to their young son’s demise.
All the culinary delights were so enticing, that the aroma of freshly baked bread and cookies wafted through the air, attracting everyone’s attention. Oakley, attracted by the inviting sight of the cake placed in a corner, couldn’t resist trying a small piece. Tragically, he was unaware that it contained nuts. Oakley had a mild allergy to peanuts and his body reacted immediately to the allergen.
Upon experiencing the allergic reaction, Oakley promptly sought his mother’s assistance, who immediately checked the ingredients of the cake. Discovering that it contained walnuts, which had likely triggered the reaction, Merrill quickly administered Benadryl to Oakley. The medication seemed effective as Oakley started to feel better and even joined his cousins to play outside.
The allergic reaction seemed to have subsided. The family was not aware of any lingering internal complications. Oakley appeared perfectly fine, continuing with his evening routine which included playing with his cousins, showering, and brushing his teeth.
However, when the family was about to retire for the night, Oakley began to feel unwell again. He confided in his mother, expressing his discomfort with the words, “I’m getting sick again.”
This time, the symptoms escalated rapidly, leaving the mother with little time to respond. In a state of panic, she reached for her phone and dialed 911.
Oakley’s condition deteriorated quickly; he started vomiting and experienced a rapid onset of alarming symptoms. Despite the emergency services arriving within 10 minutes, his state had already worsened significantly – he was visibly turning blue.
Upon arrival, the first responders administered two doses of epinephrine in an attempt to reverse the severe allergic reaction. However, it was tragically too late to save young Oakley. He was rushed to the hospital where medical professionals battled for four days in an attempt to save his life. Despite their best efforts, they eventually had to concede defeat. The young boy, Oakley, was pronounced dead, marking a devastating end to this tragic incident.
For Oakley’s mother, the memory of that fateful day is unshakeable. She found herself entangled in a cycle of self-blame, questioning her initial decision to administer Benadryl instead of opting for more intensive medication like an EpiPen. Merrill was consumed by the harrowing thought that her son might still be alive had she chosen differently. But the tragic incident had already occurred, leaving her grappling with the irreversible loss.
The perplexing nature of delayed allergic reactions, as in Oakley’s case, was underscored by Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Director of the Food Allergies Outcomes Program at Northwestern. Speaking with TODAY, she highlighted the limited understanding of such delayed reactions that initially seem to improve but then rapidly escalate to life-threatening conditions. She emphasized the critical need for recognizing signs of an allergic reaction, and knowing when and how to use epinephrine to manage them.
In the aftermath of their loss, the family issued an open letter to everyone who had known and loved their son, as well as those who had provided invaluable support during their time of grief.
“‘Love, love and more love. You are all so beautiful. Thank you, everyone, for being with me, especially during this time. I appreciate how strong you have been for me. No one could have done anything else Wednesday night. No one is to blame. If you think you are… DON’T. Don’t PLEASE!
Thank you for everyone wanting to help me. Having a family so thoughtful and caring who loves to laugh makes me the happiest boy. Support each other with determined hearts. Be there to support or to be held. It is the way to get through this time. I am grateful to be part of this family. I am blessed by the grace of God to be in it…
Be cheerful happy and enthusiastic. Show your courage, be at peace. Love your life and live it. That is the best thing you can do for me.
Look for me in the rainbow I will always be there.’”
In the wake of her son’s sudden and tragic death, Merrill hopes to create greater awareness about food allergies, especially within school environments. She advocates for the implementation of a nut ban in schools to safeguard children with similar allergies. To further this cause, she established a foundation called “Red Sneakers,” dedicated to educating people about the potential dangers of food allergies. The enduring love she had for her son fuels her relentless efforts. However, she continues to grapple with the pain of his loss, knowing that despite her best efforts, saving her son was tragically beyond her means.
An accompanying video provides a useful demonstration of how to properly administer an EpiPen in the event of an anaphylactic reaction to food. Please consider sharing this story and its vital information with your family and friends on Facebook to spread awareness of the life-threatening dangers posed by food allergies.