AFTER being diagnosed with a nut allergy when he was four-years-old, Derek Stephenson was always very cautious about what he ate.
He insisted on reading food packaging to check for nuts and if someone opened a bag of peanuts near him in a pub, he would move away.
But on September 22 last year, the 31-year-old from Stanhope in Weardale, County Durham, ordered his regular chicken tikka from the Memsahib Indian takeaway in nearby Tow Law.
Loading article content
He had enjoyed the dish numerous times having been assured it contained no nuts.
But on this occasion, Mrs Brown believes the usual almond cooking oil had been replaced with peanut oil and half an hour after his first bite, Mr Stephenson was dead after suffering severe anaphylaxis.
His mother Linda Brown is now determined Derek’s death was not in vain.
She is launching a three-pronged campaign aimed at tackling the issues she feels contributed to the tragedy.
Firstly, Mrs Brown wants GPs to be more fully informed about the need to regularly address allergies, specifically the role adrenalin auto-injectors, of which EpiPen is one brand, can play.
The auto-injectors allow a sufferer to administer adrenaline, a hormone which battles the anaphylaxis symptoms such as tightening airways and swelling tissue.
She said: “Derek was diagnosed with the allergy before EpiPens were invented, but once they came on the scene no-one ever offered him one or even spoke to him about it.
“An EpiPen can buy someone suffering an attack crucial time and can make a big difference as to whether they live or die, but not once did someone say to Derek he could have one.”
Mrs Brown said GPs also need to send more people who display potential allergies for proper assessments at specialist centres to determine exactly what it is they are allergic to.
But she is also urging people with allergies themselves to take the condition a lot more seriously.
She said: “It only takes one bad attack and that could be it.
“If people feel that they are not getting their allergy dealt with properly then they should really push for it.
“Tell your doctors you want to be more fully assessed and need an EpiPen, and obviously pay attention to what you are eating.”
Mrs Brown’s final wish is already being addressed by the Government.
She said: “Quite simply, people need to know what is going in to their food.
“Takeaways and restaurants need to be clear about what is in their food, and if ingredients change they need to tell people.”
In December, new legislation will be introduced ordering food producers to do just that, partly in response to cases like Mr Stephenson’s.
Derek, who had two sisters and a brother, lived and worked in Weardale and more than 300 people attended his funeral.
Mrs Brown said: “Given the tragic circumstances of his death and the factors around it I feel compelled to help prevent further unnecessary deaths and prevent such devastation for other families.
“Coming to terms with Derek’s death has been excruciatingly painful and devastating, but I don’t want his death to be in vain.
“We must learn from it and ensure no-one else has to suffer in this way.”
His meal was found to have 10,000mlg of peanut protein per kilogram.
Mrs Brown said 1mlg would be enough to cause a reaction.
She said: “It was a normal Sunday, he regularly ordered this meal because he knew it would be safe.”
Now she is working with the Anaphylaxis Campaign to raise awareness of the importance of properly addressing allergies.
Hazel Gowland from the charity said there are around ten deaths a year from allergic reactions and one in five takeaway meals billed as nut free contains nuts.
She said: “It is a serious issue, people need to have their allergies reassessed regularly and need to be alert.
“Having an allergy is a chronic condition and it can change as you do.
“When it comes to ordering food, never assume just because it was ok once it still is.
“But food providers also need to know what ingredients they are using and be able to give accurate information to customers.
For more information, visit anaphylaxis.org.uk