Helen was vigilant about her girl’s egg allergy - but one day, a single treat led to tragedy.
Here, Helen Marrero, 40, tells the story in her own words.
M￼y little girl clung to the Hills Hoist as I spun her around, her dark hair streaming behind her.
‘Whee!’ Isabel, nine, cried.
Then she broke into a beautiful giggle. I loved that sound. Her infectious laugh followed her everywhere, betraying her whereabouts!
We always had fun together.
‘I can’t wait until this is over so we can hang out together, Mumma,’ she’d say as I dropped her at school. ‘Me too, darling,’ I’d smile.
She’d give me lots of cuddles and was always giving me bizarre facts too!
‘Mumma, did you know you can’t give a dog grapes?’ she said once.
‘Is that right?’ I laughed.
Isabel adored animals. It would take forever to walk down the street as she’d pat every dog.
We had two Shar Peis and she’d say, ‘I love them both the same. Just like I love you and Dad exactly the same.’
Although her dad Ray and I had separated years before, we were still friends.
I was very protective of Isabel, my only child, as she not only had asthma but also a severe egg allergy.
As a tot, she ate soup containing egg and had to be given adrenalin by paramedics to help her breathe.
After that, I ensured she carried an EpiPen in a little handbag wherever she went. If she had an anaphylactic shock, the shot would open up her airways.
I was also vigilant about what she ate. I’d check the ingredients on every packet of food I bought, and if in any doubt, I’d call the company to check it didn’t contain egg.
When we ate out, I’d quiz the chef first. Sometimes I’d even go and check the pans the food was cooked in.
At school, I ensured the teachers knew about the allergy and had all the emergency numbers.
As a result, apart from a mild reaction once to bread containing egg, Isabel never had another anaphylactic episode.
Then in March last year, when she was nine, I bought a packet of Cadbury cookies at the supermarket.
I knew they were egg-free and safe. She’d had them several times over the past year and loved them.
After school she ate chicken and noodles followed by ice cream.
‘Can I have more ice cream, Mumma?’ she said.
‘Why don’t you have one of these?’ I said, offering a cookie.
But 20 minutes after eating it, she began struggling to breathe. Assuming she was having an asthma attack, I administered her Ventolin inhaler, but it didn’t help.
‘Call an ambulance,’ I cried to my partner Ian, rushing Isabel outside for fresh air. ‘And ring Ray.’
By now, she was gasping and turning blue. Suddenly I had a horrible thought...
‘What are the ingredients on the cookies?’ I screamed.
‘They contain egg,’ Ian said.
‘Bring me the EpiPen!’ I yelled, terrified.
Just then the ambulance arrived. The paramedics brought Isabel back with oxygen and adrenalin but she stopped breathing again.
While they tried to resuscitate her I held onto her foot – the only part of her I could reach.
‘Come back to me baby,’ I wept. But she didn’t.
My precious girl passed, right there in front of me.
Minutes later, Ray arrived to discover his little girl hadn’t made it.
The shock was terrible. The grief, indescribable.
For hours afterwards, I stared at that cookie packet.
‘It’s identical to the one I always bought,’ I wept, shaking my head in disbelief.
It took me two days to realise it wasn’t. Instead of the Choc Centre ‘choc filled’ version I usually bought, these were Chocolate Chip ‘soft centre’.
On the ingredients list, it said ‘containing egg’. I hadn’t even known Cadbury made
a different variety.
I could barely live with myself after that. It destroyed me to think I hadn’t protected my little girl. But eventually, I realised I had to find something positive.
It was a tragic mistake, but it was a tragedy that could’ve been avoided.
So I started a change.org petition campaigning for allergen labels to be on the front of food packets. It has more than 43,000 signatures.
I’m urging others with allergies to check the ingredients every time.
I spoke to Cadbury, who agreed to differentiate between the packets. I also lobbied the government and met up with Food Standards to implore them to make ingredients clearer on packaging. And I did it all for Isabel, because she wouldn’t want others to suffer, and because every single anaphylactic shock is a potential death.
A year on, I miss my baby every day. I’ve made a little area for her upstairs with her beloved roller skates and favourite toys. I also have a digital picture frame in the kitchen which continuously displays videos of her.
I love watching how happy and playful she was. And when I’m feeling down, I turn up the volume, and let her beautiful giggle wash away my tears.
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