Like a time bomb, anaphylactic shock must be defused before it destroys.
There’s only one way to do so: a shot of epinephrine. But 13-year-old Annie LeGere didn’t have the lifesaving drug with her when, in August 2015, she started to have trouble breathing at a sleepover in her hometown of Elmhurst. No one knew she had an undetected severe allergy. The police officers who responded to the 911 call didn’t have epinephrine with them either. Shortly after Annie got to the hospital, her heart stopped. Doctors resuscitated her, but nine days later she died of brain injuries sustained while she wasn’t breathing.
Often the first to arrive at an emergency, the police already carry defibrillators and the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. Now, thanks to Annie’s mom, Shelly LeGere, they can carry epinephrine too.
Within two months of her daughter’s death, she created the Annie LeGere Foundation, a nonprofit that supports food allergy education and pushes for legislation. She partnered with state senator Chris Nybo to draft Annie’s Law, which allows all police departments in Illinois to get prescription epinephrine auto-injectors such as EpiPens. The pair spent a year lobbying everyone from Elmhurst’s mayor to Governor Bruce Rauner, who signed the first version of the bill in 2016, a little less than a year after Annie died. But a year after that, almost no police departments in the state had been equipped with epinephrine. Doctors, it turns out, weren’t willing to issue blanket prescriptions unless they could be protected from liability.
LeGere, a surgical nurse at Amita Health Adventist Medical Center La Grange, was frustrated. “If you are going through anaphylaxis, you are either going to suffocate and die or die from a heart attack,” she says. “But I don’t even know of a case where epinephrine has harmed someone.” She got back to work, advocating for an amendment that relieves doctors of responsibility for how officers administer the drug. On July 31, Rauner signed the amendment, removing the final legal barrier.
Next up for LeGere: ensuring that epinephrine gets into first responders’ hands. Her foundation has raised about $250,000 to help pay for auto-injectors and support education initiatives. “Nothing that I do now will change what happened to Annie,” she says. “But if it can change other people’s lives, then it gives me some peace.”