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Mother seeks stranger who helped save daughter’s life on I-277

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

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    To reach Jill Fowler, contact staff writer Cleve R. Wootson Jr. at 704-358-5046



A Charlotte mother is trying to find the woman she says helped saved her daughter’s life during an emergency on Interstate 277 last week.

Jill Fowler said her daughter, Mia, who turns 3 in November, was diagnosed with a nut allergy when she was 14 months old. Coming in contact with peanuts, pistachios and hazelnuts can be deadly, causing hives, lowering her blood pressure and making it hard for Mia to breathe.

On Tuesday afternoon, Fowler, who is 8 months pregnant, was driving Mia home from a play-date. Just before they left, Mia began eating a vegan chocolate chip cookie. Fowler said the list of ingredients didn’t include anything Mia was allergic to.

Within 10 minutes after taking the first bite, however, Mia started having a potentially fatal allergic reaction, Fowler said. Making matters worse, they were on Interstate 277, just north of uptown, stuck in rush-hour traffic.

“She started saying that the cookie was spicy,” Fowler said. “She was talking funny a little and acting a little weird. Mia started crying, and I looked back, and she was drooling. You could tell she was struggling breathing. And she started throwing up.”

Fowler carries two EpiPens in her purse for Mia. The pens – or epinephrine auto-injectors – hold a dose of the drug epinephrine, which is used to treat anyphylactic shock.

It was clear that Mia needed her EpiPen, but Fowler’s SUV was in stop-and-go traffic on the highway. She tried to maneuver her SUV over several lanes of traffic into the breakdown lane, but there was too much traffic. And Mia was getting worse.

So Fowler says she put on her hazard lights, and dodged oncoming traffic to go to her daughter’s door.

In her head, she tried to remember how to inject the life-saving drug into her daughter.

“You have to really swing your arm and jam it, and it clicks,” Fowler said. “And then you have to hold it for 10 seconds. And you have to do it in a certain part of the thigh. The best place is more to the side.

“But I was so frantic, I couldn’t even get the cap off,” she said.

A woman in a gray Mini Cooper arrived about that time. The woman asked whether Fowler needed help, then came to her side. Another motorist dialed 911.

Fowler said she doesn’t remember many details about the woman, because she was focused on Mia, who struggled to breathe.

“Every minute she was getting worse. I couldn’t remember how to use the EpiPen.”

She removed the cap and the protective seal, then pushed the pen into her daughter’s leg. But in her panic, she said, she didn’t think she held it down for long enough. Mia didn’t improve.

Fowler had one EpiPen left, “but I didn’t think I could do it. Then the woman asked, ‘do you want me to do it?’”

Fowler said yes. The woman read the instructions on the EpiPen, then Fowler held Mia down while the woman injected the girl.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the medicine worked. But when fire trucks and paramedics picked their way through traffic and came to the SUV minutes later, they said Mia had stabilized. She was crying, which meant she could breathe.

They put her on a gurney and into the ambulance, then helped Fowler into the back for the trip to the hospital.

But Fowler hasn’t seen or heard from the woman since the doors to the ambulance closed, and she would like to find the good Samaritan.

“I just want to be able to thank her and give her a big hug,” Fowler said. “I want her to understand that she helped save Mia’s life.”

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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