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International Red Sneaker Day brings awareness to food allergies

Oakley Debbs suffered fatal reaction in 2016 in West Palm Beach
Posted at 3:50 PM, May 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-21 11:23:36-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Family members are continuing their mission to keep people safe after 11-year-old son died from a food allergy in 2016.

And it's gaining international attention.

The Debbs family in West Palm Beach held their International Red Sneaker Day event in The Square on Saturday.

They passed out education and prevention material on fatal food allergies.

Oakley, the son of Merrill and Robert Debbs, died after a bad allergic reaction to peanuts.

Because he loves his red sneakers, the family is using them as "a powerful symbol for increased education and awareness among communities of people with food allergies, but also people who don’t have them," according to their website.

Red sneakers of Oakley Debbs.jpg
Red sneakers of Oakley Debbs.

The family is helping others around the world through the power of social media.

“For example, we have a family in Romania that wrote to us from a very small village saying that Oakley saved their son’s life tonight," Merrill Debbs, the mother of Oakley, said. "And the only way they could’ve gotten this information is because Annie put it out there.”

Annie Smith, the social media coordinator of International Red Sneaker Day, said: "It's so extremely fulfilling for me. It’s really gratifying for me to know every day, to receive these massages. We receive hundreds of messages saying ‘you saved my child’s life, you saved my life.' ”

Up to 32 million Americans, including 1 in 13 children, have a food allergy, and nearly 40% of those children have already experienced a severe or life-threatening reaction, according to the Food Allergy Research and Education.

"Oakley’s allergy plan was all based on how to respond to Oakley's asthma attacks, to keep him breathing," according to a post on its website. "Oakley’s doctors never emphasized the importance of using epinephrine. Because of this, the Debbs were ill-prepared to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis, an acute multi-organ life-threatening reaction to allergens.

"In fact, the first time the Debbs family heard the word 'anaphylaxis' was in the emergency room on Oakley’s final night.

"At that point, it was too late."