Not clearly labeled

Shirley Oxoby

Photo by Carli Cutchin

After three years of hoping for a miracle, Shirley Oxoby of Carson City saw that her 25-year-old daughter Kerri—who was almost completely paralyzed and able to communicate on only a “yes” or “no” level—could no longer hold on. Kerri died in October, three years after eating chocolate candy—a brand of candy she had eaten safely for eight years—and suffering a severe allergic reaction. The candy had been subject to a formula change, and the candies were now coated with a thin layer of hazelnut extract; the extract appeared on the ingredients list, but the change was not indicated on the front of the label—an indication Oxoby feels is crucial. Kerri, who had had a deadly allergy to nuts since she was 2 years old, went into anaphylactic shock and ended up in a state of virtual paralysis. Today, Shirley Oxoby, a school guidance counselor, is speaking out against poor manufacturer labeling. She will appear on the The Montel Williams Show March 8 talking about her experiences.

What product labeling issues are you concerned about?

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in Virginia has drafted legislation, and they are working with product manufacturers, legislators and the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is really interested in clear labeling in common language that people can understand. There are what they call traces. If [the traces] fall below a certain percentage, they don’t have to be listed [on the packaging]. The FDA is chalking up [some cases of death] to trace elements. If you get someone like Kerri, who was lethally allergic to even trace elements, that can be a real problem.

What happened after Kerri went into shock?

She went through deep trauma, but she opened her eyes. Trying to vocalize, trying to swallow, making eye contact, squeezing a hand—these were things she was not able to do. Then we started seeing movement. Discontinuing life support became a moot point. At that point when somebody flips their eyes open, [terminating life support] goes out the window. We got her into HealthSouth [Rehabilitation Hospital] … then HealthSouth said, ‘We can’t do any more,’ so we took her home.

What was it like caring for her at home?

It was like watching a person in a dream. We were always waiting on the edge, hoping we could get through to consistency. She could say, “Mom, dad … yes, no.” Friends came over every night, reading to her … giving her deep-tissue massages. She made breakthroughs [but she never got consistently better].

What happened at the end?

She had gotten pneumonia [but had gotten better.] Then, her eyes dilated unequally, and her breathing the next day was very labored. It was like watching a machine turn off. It was like some kind of neurological event had turned off her brain. She never gave up, but I do think she chose to move on. I believe in heaven and all that stuff. I believe there is a really fine line between here and your next step. When [media] call me up [to talk about her death], it helps. I figure it’s a very good opportunity to help other people. When you’re working with [food] manufacturers, it helps to have a human story. I think it’s a good thing, to put on a label [indicating a] formula change. I don’t think it’s going to ruin anyone’s Christmas candy box.