On Nov. 3, 2017, Thomas Silvera's 3-year-old son, Elijah, was given a grilled cheese sandwich from his preschool, despite the fact that the school was aware of the boy's severe dairy allergy. The toddler went into anaphylactic shock and was rushed to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. On Jan. 16, what would have been his son's fourth birthday, Silvera filmed a video and posted it to Facebook to create awareness about the severity of food allergies in children, and most recently, he spoke with Allergic Living to push the need for schools to have food allergy knowledge.
"Today I grieve for the [loss] of my child, but I am also fighting for him as well," Silvera, a surgical technologist, wrote in the caption of his Facebook video. "I need to be strong and become the voice my son did not have. I've created this video to talk about and share awareness on the severity of food allergies. Fifteen million people suffer with food allergies and so many are asleep on the issue. It's time to wake them up and create the awareness."
Throughout the video, Silvera outlines his family's discoveries of both Elijah's and his older brother Sebastin's many food allergies. The dad shares things that parents of kids with allergies should be mindful of and tips for navigating the world outside the home with their child. "It's a very drastic change that you have to make with your life," Silvera said. "It is hard for us to not have [Elijah] with us, but the important thing is [to] create the awareness, create the voice of my son to make sure everyone is aware of the signs and symptoms [of food allergies]."
In speaking with Allergic Living, the dad touched on what he could regarding the mistakes that were made leading up to Elijah's death, and why it's so important that his death doesn't go unnoticed, but instead, sparks food allergy education in schools:
I don't think people, when they say they're trained, that the training has been consistent. Are you doing the training just to get the credentials to get the job? Or are you doing the training to get the credentials to understand and fight for every child and make sure that no one gets harmed? If you don't know what to do, it hinders or harms the situation. It makes it worse . . .
The only reason we put him in the school was because they gave us the understanding that they had staff that was trained to understand these types of medical conditions and that they had dealt with kids with food allergies. Elijah's school had medically trained staff, not nurses. They were trained to administer medication as needed. So that gave us the comfort that this educational facility will provide safety for our child . . . [but] the school didn't know what was going on. They thought he was sick with asthma. The problem is that they failed to tell us what actually happened. They knew he had asthma, but there was some information that was left out. We could have better understood what was going on with our son, if they would have mentioned it . . .
My wife, when she got there, she's the one who administered the albuterol to my son. She gave him a nebulizer. She gave him everything. She asked: "Hey, did he eat anything?" And they were like: "No. He didn't eat anything." She said: "Are you sure?" The reply was: "We're positive." It wasn't until later on that we found out that they did give him a bite to eat. That's the unsettling part.
Silvera hopes that speaking out on the subject will reach enough people to make it so that no other family has to go through what his has been through. "This cannot happen again. Not to a child. Not to an adult. Not to anyone," he said. "[Elijah's death] was such a preventable event. Every day it's a surreal thing for me. My wife and I — we want to create a foundation in my son's name, and to be an advocate for children, and hopefully to work and put in a scholarship in my son's name as well. I want to voice my son's legacy. I want that to be the focal point of my life."