When Robert and Merrill Debbs brought their kids to Maine for the Thanksgiving holiday, they had no idea it would be the last trip their whole family would ever take.
The Debbs told WMTW News that Oakley had unknowingly ingested a piece of cake that contained nuts. But once Oakley realized what was in the cake, he quickly told his mother.
Merrill immediately gave Oakley some Benadryl, which she told WMTV “they always did” in the past. And just like their previous experiences, the 10-year-old quickly felt better and was able to continue playing with his twin sister and cousins.
However, later that night Oakley fell severely ill and started to vomit; he was unable to breathe just minutes later. His mother described the scene:
“He was blue. He was unconscious. My husband was holding him. He basically was gone.”
Oakley was rushed to the hospital—where he remained until he passed away just four days later.
The family was left devastated. Oakley was a good brother and a passionate soccer player who loved the outdoors.
Now, the family has organized a foundation in Oakley's memory, the Red Sneakers Foundation, which aims to raise money, educate, and spread awareness on the severity of certain allergies:
"We didn’t really have a defined nut plan which we’re finding out needs to be really defined.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with allergies can experience anaphylaxis, which can cause shock, high blood pressure, and trouble breathing, minutes after being exposed to an allergen. In some cases, there can be a delayed reaction; anaphylaxis can also occur without an “apparent trigger.”
The Mayo Clinic also reports that antihistamines, such as Benadryl, are not sufficient in treating anaphylaxis, as they can help relieve the symptoms of an allergy, but “work too slowly” in cases where a person is having a severe reaction. The Mayo Clinic recommends speaking to a doctor about carrying an epinephrine autoinjector if a person has ever experienced a severe allergic reaction before.
The day Oakley passed, his parents decided they needed to take action so they could prevent this from happening to anyone else. Aside from education, their foundation aims to have labels on food packaging be as clear and large as possible:
“If someone wrote, ‘Contains nuts, may kill you,” like cigarettes or something, people would understand it.”
And Merrill believes that is what Oakley would have wanted:
“I always thought to myself, in my heart of hearts, that Oakley was here for a reason, and that he was going to be special. I just didn't know he was going to be special after he passed away.”
The name of the foundation was inspired by the only pair of shoes Oakley loved to wear: red sneakers. And before his funeral service on December 10th, there will be a soccer game to commemorate his life—where all children are encouraged to wear red shoes.