A few years ago, Delaware passed a law requiring schools to keep epinephrine auto-injectors available. Amanda Debus, winner of the 2016 Miss Delaware pageant, was part of the driving force that helped get that law passed.
Why was this stock epinephrine law for schools so important to Amanda? For the same reason that she has made allergy awareness her personal platform as Miss Delaware. Amanda knows firsthand that a severe allergic reaction to food can happen at any time - even if you have eaten the food in the past without a problem.
A Frightening Reaction
Amanda was 17 years old when she went to a barbecue that changed her life. She was eating pineapple – food that she had eaten many times before – when the reaction started. “Suddenly my throat started to close up,” Amanda relates. “My tongue started to swell. Everything was super scratchy. And I was struggling to breathe.”
Luckily Amanda’s mother and a neighbor, who is a nurse, noticed what was happening. Amanda was having a potentially fatal reaction to the pineapple, called anaphylaxis. At the emergency room, doctors gave Amanda the medicine that saved her life.
A Difficult Diagnosis
Although she had been allergic to dairy products as a young child, this was Amanda’s first serious reaction to food. Needless to say, she was told to stay away from pineapple. She has other allergies to eggs, tomatoes, fish and chocolate. Plus, Amanda has an intolerance to gluten. And she has environmental allergies to grasses, pollens and dogs.
Today, Amanda carries two epinephrine auto-injectors and a quick-relief asthma inhaler with her at all times. The inhaler is for her exercise-induced asthma. Amanda uses long-term control medicine and uses the quick-relief inhaler, as needed, before exercise. These steps have kept her asthma under control.
Food allergies run in Amanda’s family. Her mother is allergic to corn. While Amanda has never had to use the epinephrine auto-injector on herself, she has used it on her mother several times. Each of these situations happened in restaurants. They were told a dish was safe when it actually contained corn.
Amanda Debus with her parents, Joseph and Mary.
Food Allergies Affect Amanda Every Day
“You never think something like this will happen to you until it happens to you,” Amanda states. “Then your entire world gets shaken up!”
For example, Amanda has made changes to her diet. “Typically when you’re preparing for a pageant,” Amanda explains, “there’s a set diet plan that all the girls follow. But especially with my gluten intolerance, I cannot limit the safe things in my diet. I need to maintain a normal diet 24/7, whether I’m just living life or I’m preparing for a pageant. So this was a big change for me.”
Amanda is a student at the University of Delaware. She is working towards a bachelor of science degree in health and physical education. “This has made me really think about my social life,” Amanda says. “I have had to say ‘no’ to a few normal college things because I don’t feel safe in that environment. I’m more apt to stay home and make dinner instead of going out. Plus, I have become more in-tune with my surroundings and my own health.”
Amanda must be very careful about what she eats. This can sometimes be difficult during her public appearances as Miss Delaware. “When we’re doing an appearance we’re supposed to smile and nod and accept whatever food we’re given as a gift,” Amanda explains. “But when something might kill you, you really have to speak up!”
Amanda’s Food Allergy and Asthma Awareness Platform
As Miss Delaware, Amanda’s goal is to expand allergy awareness. Her message includes all allergies and asthma, and then she adjusts what she says based on her audience.
“Typically when I go into schools,” Amanda notes, “I tackle food allergies because they’re such a big issue. Kids are super-receptive.” At elementary schools, she talks about how kids can be helpful to classmates who have food allergies. For older students, Amanda focuses more on relationships, such as how to avoid allergic reactions when kissing.
Amanda continues her work with legislation. She feels that Delaware’s law requiring schools to keep emergency epinephrine auto-injectors on hand was a great start. Now she’s focusing on a law to allow public places, such as day cares and restaurants, to keep epinephrine available. “I’ve talked with a lot of dance or karate studios, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc.” Amanda adds. “They want this. The reactions that people have when they don’t even know they have an allergy are a huge problem.”
See Miss Delaware Sunday, September 11 in the “2017 Miss America Competition” broadcasting live at 9:00 PM ET/PT from Atlantic City on the ABC Television Network.