Two teams of children wore red sneakers during a special soccer game in West Palm Beach, Fla. on December 10th to honor a star player who could not join them, but whose fondness for that color footwear was part of his lasting legacy.
Oakley Debbs, an 11-year-old West Palm Beach boy, had died on Thanksgiving Day from an allergic reaction to nuts. Red sneakers were the only shoes he liked to wear.
In his memory, his parents created the Red Sneakers Foundation to spread awareness of the dangers of nut allergies through educational programs, research and public policy initiatives.
On Long Island, where Debbs occasionally spent his summers, students, teachers and parents at the Portledge School in Locust Valley celebrated Red Sneaker Day on December 2.
They all wore his favorite color, too.
Jack Fentress, a Portledge sixth-grader who’d befriended Debbs here, was overwhelmed by the support of his schoolmates for his friend, whom many of them had never met.
“I’m really glad so many kids at school are supporting him,” said Fentress. “I’m really sad that he had to pass away and I’ll miss him a lot.”
Food allergies, particularly nut allergies, affect approximately 15 million Americans and about one in every 13 children, according to Food Allergy and Research Education (FARE), a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about such food allergies, at foodallergy.org.
Anaphylaxis, the allergic reaction that caused Debb’s death, can be fatal if not immediately treated with epinephrine. In Debb’s case, the risk was compounded by his asthma. His previous allergic reactions had been successfully treated with Benadryl. This time, when his parents gave him that medication, his symptoms subsided, but it wasn’t enough to save his life.
Portledge mom Jami Friedman could sympathize with Debb’s distraught parents.
“Our oldest son has life-threatening allergies to milk, eggs, tree nuts and sesame, as well as asthma,” she said, “so this is a fear we live with on a daily basis. The Red Sneaker Foundation is a beautiful way to honor this young boy and bring awareness to the allergy epidemic.”
Severe food allergies have increased nearly 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, but researchers do not have conclusive explanations for the cause, according to FARE. In memory of Oakley Debbs, The Red Sneakers Foundation is doing its part to inform the public and educate parents, children and physicians about the growing dangers of severe food allergies.
The group’s hope is that one day red sneakers will come to symbolize this cause nationwide.
For more on how to lend support and learn about upcoming Red Sneakers Days across the country, visit Red Sneaker Foundation’s Facebook page at facebook.com/redsneakersforoakley.
Featured Photo: Students at Portledge School in Locust Valley celebrated Red Sneakers Day on Dec. 2, wearing red sneakers to honor the life of 11-year-old Oakley Debbs, who died from an allergic reaction to nuts, and to raise awareness about food allergies.