Robin Fitzpatrick never knew peanuts could kill her son.
Cameron Groezinger-Fitzpatrick, 19, a college freshman who suffered from a severe nut allergy, died last Friday after eating a cookie that contained peanut oil. His friend had sworn it didn't.
"We were all so shocked, it came out of nowhere," Fitzpatrick told ABCNews.com. "For 19 years, he had been knock-on-wood safe."
The Plymouth, Mass., native was first diagnosed with a nut allergy when he was 8, after projectile-vomiting "across the room" at a Chinese restaurant, his mother said. In high school he suffered from a serious allergic reaction after he dropped his asthma inhaler into a pile of acorns while running. The wild nuts caused his throat to constrict. But he was fine after getting prompt treatment, his mother said.
Then, one week ago, he ate half a cookie.
Spring break had just started and the international business major with plans to study abroad in Australia had only been home for two hours, on a visit from Rhode Island where he attended Bryant University, according to his mother.
He and his friend were out driving and bought cookies. Groezinger- Fitzpatrick's friend ate one first. The friend said he didn't taste any hint of peanut.
"He said, Ah, the hell with it, I'm sure it's fine," his friend recalled Groezinger- Fitzpatrick as saying, his mother said.
Within minutes the teen was home; it was about 6:30 that evening, and he was doubled over and turning black and blue, his mother said. "I can't breathe, I can't breathe," he had said. He hadn't unpacked yet so his mom couldn't find his Epi-Pen -- an epinephrine autoinjector. She had one in her cupboard but it had expired two months earlier. First responders told her over the phone that she shouldn't use it.
A fire chief who lived next door brought over an Epi-Pen, which was administered to the teen. (Later, his doctor told his mother she could have used the expired pen, but couldn't say whether it would have helped him.)
Once at the hospital, 15 people tag-teamed to perform CPR on the dying teen. For two hours, they tried to revive him.
"I was begging so much, these people were crying and working on him, thinking, 'We're only doing this for the mother,'" she said.
At 9 p.m., he was declared dead. Fitzpatrick stayed with her son's body until 1 a.m.
"I didn't know you can die from nut allergies. I feel foolish," she said.
At least three million American children suffer from a food or digestive allergy, and the problem is growing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1997 and 2007, the figure rose 18 percent.
Severe food allergies stem from a combination of genes, environment and possibly diet, said Dr. Kari Nadeau, associate professor of allergies and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
"We need more research to be done to help save lives," she said. "We don't have all the answers now."
As a small child, Groezinger-Fitzpatrick refused to nuts because their smell made him sick.
"It's almost like his body knew," said his mother.
Doctors later diagnosed him with an allergy to all nuts and told Groezinger- Fitzpatrick he could live a normal life. But he had to be very careful.
He wrote a bucket list at age 9. He carried an Epi-Pen. He checked food labels and questioned food service workers constantly.
But on Friday, there was no label. And his body didn't alert him to danger.
Now Groezinger-Fitzpatrick, who was on the dean's list at his college, won't be able to live in Australia with his girlfriend or work in finance.
He just might be able to cross off one of his bucket list items, though -- to save a life. He donated his organs.
"He always wanted to do something big," said his mother, as she prepared to attend his wake. More than 1,000 people were expected. "He's going out big. He's going to make others realize [they need to] be supercautious. Be your biggest advocate," she said.Also Read