On November 3, 2017, Elijah Silvera was happily playing at his New York preschool. Just hours later, though, the three-year-old boy would be hurried to the Pediatric ER at Harlem Hospital – and he was fighting for his life.
Elijah was always full of energy. In fact, his father, Thomas Silvera, had given him the nickname “Choo Choo,” likening him to a freight train. The boisterous little boy loved making towers from blocks – and he was particularly close with his five-year-old brother, Sebastian. Indeed, Thomas said that having two children had pushed him to want to achieve more in life.
Elijah attended the Seventh Avenue Center for Family Services in Harlem, New York. The day in question – Friday, November 3 – started out like any other day. However, due to a seemingly simple mistake, it would end in tragedy.
Things began to go wrong when Elijah was handed a grilled cheese sandwich by a worker at the preschool. Elijah suddenly seemed to become extremely ill. It was obvious that something was very wrong.
However, the school apparently did not contact emergencies services but instead phoned Elijah’s mom, Dina. She picked the boy up and then rushed him to hospital. It was clear to her that Elijah’s life was in terrible danger.
Elijah’s father explained the course of events from his own perspective. The first he knew of the events was when he received a phone call from the hospital. “They said, ‘You need to get to the hospital right away,’ and my wife gets on the phone and says, ‘You need to get here, he’s not breathing,’” he told ABC News.
“The only thing I can do is hang up and go,” Thomas explained. Tragically, Thomas was not able to make it to the hospital in time to see Elijah draw his last breath. “When I got to the hospital, it was too late,” he said.
However, the tragedy had a very simple, preventable cause. Elijah had a severe dairy allergy. The action of passing him a cheese sandwich had what proved to be fatal consequences.
Following Elijah’s death, his family set up a GoFundMe page. They wanted to raise funds to cover the costs of the boy’s funeral and to provide financial support for the family. Furthermore, they wanted to raise awareness of the seriousness of the issue.
Indeed, Elijah’s family did not see his death as a blameless mistake. Elijah’s preschool reportedly knew all about Elijah’s severe dairy allergy and had paperwork detailing it. Nevertheless, an adult worker at the center apparently gave him a sandwich without considering the potential danger.
In the aftermath of the incident, the Department for Health and Mental Hygiene said that it had closed the preschool. This was due to the center’s failure to enforce its safety plans or to sufficiently supervise the children in its care.
Spokesman Christopher R. Miller said, “[The department is] continuing to aggressively investigate what happened and whether the facility could have done something differently to prevent this tragedy.” Meanwhile, the family said on their GoFundMe page, that they planned to pay for an independent autopsy to establish where ultimate responsibility would lie between the preschool and the hospital.
The Seventh Avenue Center for Family Services was said to also be conducting its own investigation into exactly what happened and remained closed for the course of the various investigations. In the meantime, the preschool’s Facebook page was filled with furious comments.
“We just want justice for Elijah,” the family explained on Elijah’s GoFundMe page. “Elijah’s death was completely preventable. 5.9 million children under the age of 18 suffer from food allergies in the United States. That’s 1 in 13 children, which works out to roughly two children with allergies inside of every U.S. classroom.”
“It is an unimaginable time for everyone who loved Elijah – in particular for his five-year-old brother Sebastian, who struggles to understand that his brother is truly gone,” the message on the GoFundMe page read. “We dread the upcoming holiday season without our little boy.”
“We are lost,” the message continued. “For everyone who has already reached out to us with a text, a phone call or a hot plate of food, it is your expressed care that keeps us going.”
Following Elijah’s death, NYC officials reportedly put into effect a new emergency medical protocol for providers of childcare services. The case also prompted the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to reexamine the way that childcare providers respond to medical emergencies. Following the incident, responsible staffers must promptly call 911 in the case of a medical emergency.
Elijah’s GoFundMe page has raised over $63,000, contributed by some 1,500 people. Many paid their respects by also posting their condolences along with their donations. Among them are parents whose children also suffer from food allergies.
According to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) website, an epinephrine auto-injector is the first line of treatment for someone suffering anaphylaxis. Indeed, FARE recommends that those suffering from dairy allergies should keep such a device with them wherever they go.
Recent research has found that around four percent of Americans have a food allergy. Of these individuals, around one in six patients has had a documented case of anaphylaxis. It can only be hoped that reforms implemented after Elijah’s death will save others from a similar fate.