11-Year-Old Boy’s Death in Brooklyn May Have Been Caused by Airborne Fish Proteins

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An 11-year-old boy who died on New Year’s Day after visiting family members in Brooklyn may have had a fatal reaction to fish proteins released into the air while his relatives cooked.

The sixth grader, Cameron Jean-Pierre, had asthma and was allergic to fish and peanuts, his father, Steven Jean-Pierre, said on Thursday in an interview with WABC.

They had been visiting Cameron’s grandmother in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, where one of his relatives was making fish, and Cameron had an asthma attack, Mr. Jean-Pierre said.

Cameron’s father treated his son with a nebulizer, a device they had used many times in the past to deliver medicine to the boy’s lungs.

At first, it seemed to work, he said. But then Cameron’s condition worsened and the family called for an ambulance.

“He said, ‘I feel like I’m dying,’” his father recalled. “I said: ‘Don’t say that! What are you talking about? Don’t say that.’”

Cameron’s father said he tried to do CPR, but by the time emergency workers arrived, the child was unconscious and unresponsive, the police said. Emergency workers brought him to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, where he was pronounced dead.

“My son’s last words were ‘Daddy, I love you, daddy, I love you,” Mr. Jean-Pierre told WABC. “He gave me two kisses. Two kisses on my face.”

Cameron’s mother, Jody Pottingr, suggested to WABC that the fatal reaction might have occurred when Cameron and his father returned briefly to the apartment to retrieve a forgotten item, at a time when his relatives thought the boy was gone. The family could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The New York City medical examiner is performing an autopsy as part of its investigation, a spokeswoman for the office said on Friday, adding that the results might not be released for weeks.

While the cause of death has not yet been determined, experts say Cameron’s combination of asthma and allergies could have been to blame.

“We would fully expect the coroner’s report will end up identifying this as a death from asthma induced by an airborne allergen,” said Dr. Robert A. Wood, a professor of pediatrics and the director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

It wasn’t the smell of the fish that would have produced the allergic reaction, experts said, but the proteins released by the cooking process.

Fish cooked on a stove could have sent steam and proteins into the air, causing an allergic reaction that would have set off Cameron’s asthma, Dr. Wood said. Cooking fish in an oven, however, would be unlikely to release proteins into the air, partly because the fish would be cooked at a lower temperature.

Hypersensitivity reactions after the inhalation of food particles are an “increasingly recognized problem in children,” according to a report in the journal Allergy and Asthma Proceedings.

“Usually, respiratory manifestations include rhinoconjunctivitis, coughing, wheezing and asthma, but in some cases even anaphylaxis” — a severe, potentially life-threatening reaction — “has been observed,” the report said.

For patients who experience a respiratory reaction to a food, such as coughing, hoarseness or wheezing, epinephrine is considered the drug of choice.

“Albuterol and other asthma medications are less likely to be effective,” Dr. Wood said.

Allergies to fish and peanuts like the ones Cameron had are some of the most common allergies in the United States.

Peanut allergies rank first, followed by allergies to milk, shellfish, tree nuts, eggs and fin fish.

Although these allergens affect millions of children, severe reaction to airborne foods is “extraordinarily rare,” Dr. Wood said, and fatal reactions are even more rare.

“Severe and fatal reactions to foods usually occurring by ingestion almost exclusively occur in patients who have asthma,” he added.

Cameron attended school in Piscataway, N.J., where the family had been living for the last two years, Mr. Jean-Pierre told WABC.

Teresa M. Rafferty, the superintendent of Piscataway Township Schools, said in a statement on Thursday that Cameron was “a good student and a positive and happy presence in the classroom.”

“Our crisis management procedures and counselors are in place to help our students through this tragedy,” she added.

A GoFundMe page gathering donations for Cameron’s funeral described him as “the best son anyone can ask for” with a personality that “always lit up the room.”

“His untimely demise is one that we will never understand,” the page said, “but we ask that God carries his loved ones with a sense of peace through this tragedy.”

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