Oakley Debbs

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Oakley Debbs (DOD: 11/26/2016)

Oakley Debbs was 11 years old when he perished from a tree nut (walnut) allergy.  His mother reported that he ate a cinnamon walnut pound cake which had crushed walnut in it.  He said to his mom, ‘mommy, I think I ate a nut’.  This occurred around 9 or 10pm while the family was in Maine visiting relative over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2016.  The family did not have liquid antihistamine readily available and had to step out to grab it.  Oakley’s mom took a little bite of the cake and could taste a nut like taste.  Oakley was playful, worked on a LEGO project, and took a shower.  About 1.5 hours later, he started complaining of a stomach ache and vomited.  They gave Benadryl again.  Soon, Oakley began screaming for 911.  He complained of his throat and his eyes bothering him.   The police arrived but did have epinephrine available.  The ambulance arrived about 8-9 minutes later.  By this point, him mom reports he was blue.  They revived him 3 times but he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest thought to be secondary to his acute allergic reaction. 

Oakley had not been prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector since 2012 when his expired.  His family reports that they were not told to carry one nor had been trained on how or when to use one.  He had been under the care of an allergist for allergy shots to environmental allergies but they had stopped taking these and had last been seen over a year prior. 

Prior allergic reactions included vomiting or lip swelling with peanuts.  He typically tolerated tree nuts at home.  One notable exception occurred at a Christmas party, where he ate a walnut containing cookie and began wheezing. 

Compared to his asthma, his food allergies always seemed mild to the family.   He was a twin, born 5 weeks early who had been followed by Pulmonary physician.  He had a near fatal outcome with his asthma at 6 years old.  At the time of his death, he was using frequent albuterol to control his asthma but was not prescribed a controller medication.  

Oakley was very athletic:  was on a soccer team and in a soccer league.  He was also very bright scoring 99th%ile in the country in math.  He was being followed by both Princeton and Duke.   He had a high level of integrity and was fare.  His mom related that he once stepped in and took the hit while playing dodge ball as he noticed that someone was being aggressively targeted during summer camp.     He ‘had it all’, says his mom.    



In the aftermath of loosing Oakley, his parents, Merrill and Robert Debbs, created Red Sneakers for Oakley. 


During a family vacation in November 2016, Merrill and Robert Debbs tragically lost their 11-year-old son, Oakley, due to a fatal anaphylactic reaction resulting from a mild nut allergy.

Oakley suffered from both asthma and nut allergies. Oakley’s doctors always focused on the management process of controlling his chronically “severe” asthma. The Debbs’ received little medical advice regarding Oakley’s “mild” food allergies and anaphylactic shock.

Shortly after Oakley’s death, Merrill and Robert decided to publicly share Oakley’s story to help raise awareness about the dangers of food allergies. The Debbs’ immediately saw a need for awareness and founded the non-profit organization, Red Sneakers for Oakley, in memory of their son.

Oakley wore red sneakers in the multiple sports he played. The Debbs’ looked to Oakley’s favorite shoes as a powerful symbol to represent the severity of food allergies. Today they encourage people around the world to wear red sneakers in support of food allergy awareness.