Friends and family members of Andrea Mariano gathered in Markham on Sunday to remember the Queen's University student — one year after she died after drinking a smoothie that contained something she was fatally allergic to.
Mariano died in September 2015 from an anaphylactic allergic reaction, just days after she started her first year of post-secondary studies.
"It was Andrea's second week in university," said Andrea's sister, Kristina Mariano. "She had ordered a smoothie that was cross-contaminated with either dairy products or peanuts and she had an allergic reaction to that."
On Sunday, the first Walk for Andrea was held in remembrance of the 18-year-old to raise attention to those living with severe allergies.
"[We hope this walk] creates a safer environment for everyone so that tragic events, like the one that happened to my sister, doesn't happen to anyone else," said Kristina of her late sister.
Daily dangers of allergies
For some of those who took part, the dangers of anaphylaxis are a daily worry.
"My wife and I have two children with severe food allergies," said Peter Deboran, who helped organize the walk.
The event, which encouraged participants to walk around and enjoy the beauty of Milne Conservation Park in Markham, Ont., was also held in support of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Program at SickKids Hospital in Toronto.
"We've noticed over the last number of years that more and more children are being diagnosed with severe food allergies," he said. "We had no choice but to start organizing this walk to get the word out."
"In every school now there is literally, 10 to 15 kids carrying an EpiPen around. And every three of four months we hear of a child who has died from food allergies," Deboran said.
Fatalities 'fortunately, rare'
"It's important for families to remember that fatalities from anaphylaxis are, fortunately, rare," said Dr. Adelle Atkinson, in a release by the walk's organizers.
Atkinson, who has a child with allergies, is also a clinical immunologist in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at SickKids.
She hopes the walk will encourage adolescents and young adults to take responsibility for their own allergy management.
"Tragic events such as the passing of Andrea can serve as an important opportunity for parents, their kids and the entire community to come together," said Atkinson.
On their website, Toronto SickKids Foundation estimates that 300,000 Canadian children live with food allergies.