On this final Friday of National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and Kids With Food Allergies (KFA), our food allergy division, are holding a Remembrance Day in honor of family members and loved ones who’ve died from asthma or allergies. We also take time to remember others who have needlessly been lost to preventable deaths.
On average, more than 4,100 Americans die from asthma each year.1 A few hundred more die each year because of severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis [anna-fih-LACK-sis].2 Most of these deaths were preventable. We believe one life lost to asthma or allergies is one too many.
On this day, we reflect on our mission to save lives and reduce the burden of these diseases on individuals and families.
We dedicate today as a time to celebrate and honor lives lost and to continue to make a difference in memory of the people who live in our hearts forever.
AAFA is blowing bubbles today to remember lives lost. We encourage you to join us. Here are some ways you can show your respects:
- Blow bubbles in memoriam: Share a photo on social media blowing bubbles or of a loved one using the hashtag #AsthmaAwareness or #AllergyAwareness and tag @AAFANational.
- Write a poem, draw a picture, take a photograph of something your loved one would find beautiful, or sing or write a song using the hashtag #AsthmaAwareness or #AllergyAwareness and tag @AAFANational.
- Share a memory of a loved one in the comments below, or join our AAFA or KFA communities and share your memories on our forums.
- Send a card in the mail, make a phone call, or drop a text to friends or family to share support and fond memories.
- Make a donation to support AAFA’s work in memory of a loved one.
Here are some we've lost to asthma and allergies and their advocates who are raising awareness in their honor. Our hearts are with them and everyone today who has lost loved ones from asthma and allergies.
Keisha was known for her shining spirit and her heart for service. She worked as an Executive Services Analyst, Congressional Liaison, and Business Coordinator for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She also actively volunteered in her community and at her church from the time she was a teen. She died on June 19, 2019, from asthma – likely undiagnosed eosinophilic asthma. Her great uncle Reverend Marvin Bradley also died from asthma. Stories like Keisha’s are why AAFA is committing to reducing asthma disparities through our Health Equity Advancement and Leadership (HEAL) program.
Gionanni was 14 when he had a fatal reaction to peanuts on Oct. 1, 2013. Since then, his mom, Georgina Cornago Cipriano has been working to raise food allergy awareness in his honor. She founded the Love for Giovanni Foundation and advocated for Gio’s Law, which authorizes certain New York emergency service providers to be trained to treat anaphylaxis and carry epinephrine in their vehicles.
Around Thanksgiving in 2016, the Debbs family was on vacation with relatives in Maine. Oakley was enjoying a normal day of fun, like most kids. That night, he ate some cake that most likely contained nuts or nut flavoring. They gave him an antihistamine. A little while later, Oakley had an anaphylactic reaction. They were not aware he needed to be treated with epinephrine. A few days later, Oakley succumbed to the allergic reaction. He was 11 years old.
Oakley loved red sneakers. In his honor, the Debbs founded Red Sneakers for Oakley to educate and advocate for food allergy awareness.
At age 16, Austin loved to cook and learn new recipes with his father. He was a fan of comic books and his favorite football team was the Carolina Panthers. He also had asthma. One night in 2016, he had a serious asthma attack that left him unconscious. He died a few days later. Since then, his mother, Meredith Dodds, has made it her mission to educate other people about asthma through the MyHope4Austin Organization.
In November 2019, Robert’s journey with asthma took a turn when he was hospitalized for a severe upper respiratory infection. Due to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, health insurance, and medicine costs, he struggled to get his asthma under control. On March 13, 2021, he woke up with severe asthma symptoms. Around 6 p.m. that night, he was rushed to the hospital and took his last breath. Robert was a dedicated husband and father to Sevyn and Urban and affectionately known as the “loudest, most vibrant soul you would have ever met.”
Laura had an infectious laugh and loved working out, hiking, travel, scary movies, iced coffee, her cats, and most of all her family and friends. In the midst of an asthma attack in 2016, she walked to her local hospital alone at night but had trouble locating its emergency department due to poor lighting and improper signage. Not a single door was marked “emergency.” The door that appeared to lead to the emergency department was locked, so she called for help. No one came out of the hospital to find her. Her attack overcame her and she died days later at 34.
On June 8, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will issue first-of-their-kind regulations to improve emergency-department signage, lighting, wayfinding, and security in accordance with “Laura’s Law.” Laura's husband, Peter DeMarco, proposed and helped pass the legislation and has worked with state officials to see it implemented. He is pushing them to make Laura’s Law as strong as possible so that no one will ever get lost on their way to an emergency department and that proper fail-safes will be in place if they do.
Laura’s attack happened during Asthma Peak Week, which falls on the third week of September. Peter believes that had she been aware of peak week she might still be alive, and he has tried to spread that message through AAFA. “Losing Laura,” which Peter wrote for the Boston Globe Magazine, also tells her story.
In August, the AAFA New England chapter will be running in the Falmouth Road Race to raise asthma and allergy awareness. Peter will be running for Laura, leading the way as the team’s first captain. Cheer them on and support their efforts.
Anela Malik is a popular food and travel writer who also has a connection to food allergies and asthma. At 56, her father, Ahmad Malik, died of an asthma attack. He had asthma all his life. On Instagram, she shared how her dad, who became an activist, was barred from care at a whites-only hospital during an asthma attack as a child because he was Black. This nearly killed him then. Structural racism continued to play a role in management of asthma throughout his life.
Nicola was 70 when he died on Feb. 20, 2021. His family is holding a fundraiser in his honor with a goal of $5,000 to donate toward asthma and allergy education, support, and the reduction of asthma disparities.
In 2017, 3-year-old Elijah went to his New York City day care like any other day. Even though the staff knew of his multiple food allergies – including milk – they gave him a grilled cheese sandwich. They did not follow his Anaphylaxis Action Plan, and Elijah died from an allergic reaction.
Elijah’s parents, Thomas Silvera and Dina Hawthorne-Silvera formed the Elijah-Alavi Foundation in his honor. They work to raise food allergy awareness and the critical need for education and training. To date, three states have passed Elijah’s Law. The bill requires early education/children’s day care programs to follow state guidelines for prevention and response to anaphylaxis. AAFA supports the Elijah-Alavi Foundation in getting versions of the bill passed in other states.
Joseph “Joey” Shepherd
Joey committed his life to serving others as an ICU nurse, loving husband to Katie, and father to three children. He passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 12, 2021, from an asthma attack at age 34. To honor Joey and his spirit of servanthood, his family works to help other people who have asthma.
Marisa had managed asthma since the fourth grade. But at the end of her freshman year of college, she passed away two days before finishing her spring semester. High pollen counts, school stress, lack of sleep, and lack of air conditioning in the dorms all created a situation Marisa could not recover from. Marisa died from asthma on May 6, 2015. In her honor, her family founded Marisa’s Mascots to educate people about asthma and raise funds to support AAFA’s mission.
Michael “Mikey” Thomas
Mikey wasn’t defined by asthma. Instead, he was known as a loving son, brother, uncle, and friend. “Mikey was the sweetest, most kind person you would ever meet,” recalled his mother, Marietta Adams. “Mikey was my second-born son and child, but most importantly, he was my protector and best friend.”
Mikey died on Feb. 13, 2021, from asthma but friends and family have continued to spread his love by supporting AAFA’s mission to help other people with asthma and allergies.
“Mikey was an excellent son, brother, uncle, and friend to many," said Mikey’s father and step mother, Harry and Lytetia Thomas, Jr. “He was a calm in the storm. We were blessed to have had him here with us on life’s journey and even more blessed to have him as our guardian angel. May we always remember his best attribute which is love.”
The love story of Valerie and Jordan came to a sad, needless end when her 30-year-old husband, Jordan, died from asthma. He woke in the middle of the night struggling to breathe. After a night in the emergency room, he was sent home, only to have his symptoms reappear four days later. At 1:20 a.m., Valerie woke to find her husband having another asthma attack. He was gone five minutes later.
Valerie now fiercely advocates on Jordan’s behalf to save other people from asthma. She is sounding the alarm on racial and ethnic asthma disparities.
Emily Vonder Meulen
Emily was 13 when she died from anaphylaxis back in 2006. She had eaten a sandwich at a mall – a sandwich she had safely many times before. She also had asthma, so she mistook the signs of anaphylaxis for an asthma attack. Emily tried to treat her symptoms with her inhaler instead of epinephrine.
Her parents, Paul and Catrina, have worked over the years to raise awareness about knowing how to recognize and treat anaphylaxis when you also have asthma. They have been long-time advocates and supporters of KFA. They have provided financial support to help us share anaphylaxis-asthma education over the years.
The people we’ve mentioned here are just a small number of lost to asthma or allergies. AAFA staff talks almost daily to families who have lost loved ones, helping them through the grief that comes with the sudden death of a loved one from asthma or allergy. It’s our deepest hope to keep more of these tragedies from happening to others.
1. National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System: Mortality (1999-2018). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html2. Fatal anaphylaxis in the United States, 1999-2010: Temporal patterns and demographic associations - Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (jacionline.org)