Kendra Tiedemann's 8-year-old son has been carrying an epinephrine injector with him since he was 3.
But the Franklin mother says not all children may have the so-called EpiPen, a device designed to quickly treat serious allergic reactions. That's why she and others support a bill advancing in the Legislature that would authorize at least two epinephrine auto-injectors to be placed in all public and private schools in Tennessee.
"Not all children are able to carry their own EpiPen, or they may be uncomfortable having something that makes them look different," said Tiedemann, who also carries the device, as well as her husband.
She described her son Paul as a "highly allergic individual" and said she's developed a plan to hopefully limit the chances of him having an anaphylactic reaction at school. She reviews the plan with his physicians each summer, then gives it to his school to keep on file.
"We ensure his space at the lunch table is wiped down before he uses it," said Tiedemann, who's seen a range of effects from her son's reactions.
They've included skin rashes, hives, vomiting, facial swelling and the closing of his airway — which she describes as probably the scariest moment.
"He went from eating and talking to turning blue and limp, and this look of fear in his eyes," she recalled.
Proponents say some parents may not be as attentive as Tiedemann, or the child may be at school when he or she has the first reaction. They say that's when having an EpiPen injector at the school would be helpful — possibly even life-saving.
"You never know when a kid is going to have a reaction," said House sponsor Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). "If they don't have an EpiPen, that ... could be a life-or-death situation."
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 6 percent of children in the United States under age 3 have food allergies.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says roughly one in 13 kids under age 18 have at least one food allergy. Nearly 40 percent of those youngsters have had a severe allergic reaction after consuming a food, according to the group.
Under the proposal, which is expected to be heard next week in the House and Senate finance committees, a physician may prescribe the injectors in the name of the school.
If a student has a reaction and doesn't have an injector or a prescription for one on file at the school, "the school nurse or other trained school personnel may utilize the ... school supply of epinephrine auto-injectors to respond to an anaphylactic reaction, under a standing protocol from a physician," the bill says.
The measure also protects the prescribing doctor or administering nurse from any injury to a child, unless there was "an intentional disregard for safety."
Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said she understands the benefit of having the injectors at schools. But she said it may be a challenge making sure that individuals are properly trained to administer the medicine.
"That's always been our position," Summerford said. "You've got to have the nursing staff and the people that are trained to administer these things for children. It's critical. A lot of kids' lives depend on it."
Rebecca Basalone of Knoxville said her 3-year-old son, who has multiple food allergies, will be in kindergarten in a couple of years. She said having the EpiPen injectors in his school would be comforting.
"For them to have a backup system in place, that would ease my stress level tremendously," Basalone said.