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Virginia first-grader dies from allergic reaction at school

A 7-year-old Virginia girl with a history of allergies dies after being exposed to peanuts at her elementary school. WWBT's Yvette Yeon reports.

The death of a 7-year-old Virginia girl from an apparent allergic reaction is raising new questions about how schools and parents handle potentially life-threatening conditions.

Ammaria Johnson, a first-grader at Hopkins Elementary School in Chesterfield County, near Richmond, died Monday afternoon after apparently ingesting something that triggered allergy-related breathing and heart problems, according to Lt. Jason Elmore with the Chesterfield County Fire and EMS department. The child reportedly suffered from allergies to several substances, including nuts and eggs.

Paramedics got a 911 call from school officials at 2:26 p.m. saying a child was in distress, Elmore said.

"When our crews arrived less than five minutes later, the child was already in cardiac arrest," he said. She was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

School officials did not treat the girl with medication such as an epinephrine EpiPen, which can reverse severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis. Shawn Smith, a spokesman for the Chesterfield County Public Schools district, would not speak directly about the child's death. However, he said that school officials do administer life-saving medication when they have a treatment plan on file -- and when the parent supplies the appropriate drugs.

"Execution of the plan is dependent on the parent's ability to inform the school of needs and to provide appropriate resources," Smith said in a statement to msnbc.com.

Laura Pendleton, the girl's mother, told NBC television affiliate WWBT that she had questions about the way the school handled the crisis.

"I don't know who to be angry at, at this point," she said.

Of the nearly 60,000 children in the Chesterfield County Public Schools district, about 635 have plans and medication in place for treating food, insect or latex allergies, Smith said.

Chesterfield County police have launched an investigation into the death, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Caroon. The Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia has declined to accept the case because it is regarded as a natural death, said spokesman Steve Murman. No autopsy will be performed, he added.

The child's death likely will renew questions about whether schools should stockpile doses of epinephrine for just such emergencies. Several states authorize schools to administer the drugs without specific prescriptions. Illinois, for instance, passed a law allowing the practice last summer.

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, or FAAN, which includes parents of children with allergies, is championing federal legislation that would allow schools nationwide to maintain and administer epinephrine to students who have anaphylactic reactions.

"Stories like this one, unfortunately, drive home how important this is," said Maria Acebal, chief executive of FAAN.

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