As many of you are aware, our family lost a wonderful man, Walter Hahn on September 1, 2012. On the day of this death that Saturday morning, he was doing what he loved- barbecuing in preparation for a party. While he would probably never verbalize it, he received a lot of satisfaction in cooking for others. Walter left the house to check on the brisket and within 15 minutes was back at the house telling his wife that he had gotten stung and could not breathe. Because she is a nurse, she immediately recognized that he was having an allergic reaction to an insect sting and was rapidly progressing into anaphylactic shock. This severe allergic reaction is characterized by hives, swelling of the mouth, tongue or throat, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, chest pain, and weakness or fainting. Unconsciousness and death can soon follow. Walter had been stung by insects in the past and had only mild reactions. He controlled these by Benadryl and had not previous history of a severe reaction. According to WebMD, “people who have experienced an allergic reaction to an insect sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if stung again.” Death from insect stings “frequently, but not always occur in people who have had previous allergic reaction to the same type of insect,” according to emedicinehealth.com. We never would have suspected that Walter, who had been stung in the past, would have this type of reaction.
We are encouraging all of you to be diligent in managing insect stings. Most symptoms are no more than a local reaction, with mild swelling or pain. However, always keep in the back of your mind that subsequent stings can trigger your body to react violently and potentially progress into life threatening anaphylactic shock. Also remember that this severe reaction can occur in a person with no history of any type of reaction. We cannot give you medical advice, but encourage you to speak to your doctor about the appropriate medications for you to keep to manage insect stings.
Our family is going to have Epi-Pens on hand and we encourage you to speak to your doctor to see whether it is appropriate for you. This is a last resort medication and is NOT a substitute for medical treatment. If an Epi-Pen is used, 911 must be called immediately. Many people are reluctant to keep an Epi-Pen because they expire and must be replaced. However, imagine if a life was saved by having one?
Could an Epi-Pen have saved Walter? We will never know. Will an Epi-Pen save every person who has a severe reaction? No. However, the potential benefits of having one may outweigh not having one. My family is using our tragedy as an opportunity to educate others and possibly save another’s life.
Dorothy Hahn, Amanda Boring, Candace Johnson, and Elaine Brewer