Teacher at South Downs school speaks out after nearly dying from allergic reaction

A teacher at a South Downs school has spoken out about how she nearly died after suffering an allergic reaction.
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Billie-Jo Button, who teaches maths at Windlesham House prep school in Washington, began to feel unwell as soon as she arrived for work one morning.

“I didn’t feel very well coming to school, lightheaded, not quite right. People were trying to have a conversation with me, and I couldn’t focus. I could feel the lack of oxygen, and I could hear that the bell went but I noticed that my ears and nose were swelling.”

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Billie-Jo was suffering an allergic reaction but it is not known what caused it.

Teacher Billie-Jo Button nearly died after suffering an allergic reaction while at schoolTeacher Billie-Jo Button nearly died after suffering an allergic reaction while at school
Teacher Billie-Jo Button nearly died after suffering an allergic reaction while at school

The school's medical team, led by onsite nurse Kate Hooper rushed to help. “Our school nurse Kate said I really needed my EpiPen, but I only had one bag with me because I try to spread my pens out to cover all bases," said Billie-Jo. “I administered the pen whilst Kate was on the phone to the ambulance. After some time, I still wasn’t improving. I could hear my wheeze and the ambulance was saying they couldn’t get to us for 20 minutes. That’s a long time in an allergy situation."

At that point Kate used a second adrenaline pen which she got from an Anaphylaxis Kitt from medical suppliers Kitt Medical stored in the school’s medical room.

Now Windlesham House headmaster Ben Evans is keen to highlight what happened to raise awareness of the importance of having a good supply of adrenalin pens in schools in case of emergencies.

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He said: “As schools we’re always aware that some children have allergies, they carry their adrenalin pens and we make sure our schools are nut-free, but it’s hard to imagine what a worst-case scenario might look like unless you have been through it and witnessed it yourself. It’s a very scary moment seeing someone fighting to breathe. Thankfully, having a good supply of adrenalin pens in school managed to keep Billie-Jo stable before the ambulance arrived.”

In total, three adrenaline pens were administered to Billie-Jo, as well as the use of an automated external defibrillator, before she was taken to hospital. Thankfully she has now made a full recovery and is back teaching.

“If anything positive can come from this very frightening situation, it’s the need to highlight the importance of staff training around allergies and how vital it is to have access to a good supply of adrenaline pens in school,” said the school head. “All of our staff have been trained and understand how to administer the pens, I would urge all schools to do the same.”

Meanwhile, Billie-Jo has praised the school for its quick reactions. "The more people that know about allergies, the better people's lives can be,” she said. “Experiencing the reaction, in some ways, has highlighted the severity of allergies in school. Some people don’t realise how serious it can be. It’s tough to drop into conversations without either underplaying it or making people scared. It’s not a choice, I have to be safe."

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