WEST COVINA, CA (CNN) - A California mother is sending out a warning to other parents after she says her 11-year-old daughter, who had a severe dairy allergy, died after an allergic reaction to a prescription toothpaste.
Mother Monique Altamirano told the story of her 11-year-old daughter Denise Saldate’s death to the magazine Allergic Living. The girl was the youngest of four sisters.
“She was my sunshine; she was the light of my life,” said Altamirano of her daughter.
The mother says a dentist unknowingly prescribed Denise, who had a dairy allergy, a brand of toothpaste called MI Paste One that contained a milk-derived protein in early April.
While Denise’s parents say they were careful to check food labels for milk and other potential allergens, they did not check the toothpaste because they had never seen milk as an ingredient in toothpaste before.
The 11-year-old used the toothpaste April 4, which her mother says triggered a deadly allergic reaction that did not respond to an epinephrine pen or asthma inhaler.
“I did not think to look at the product ingredients. She was just excited to have her special toothpaste,” Altamirano told Allergic Living. “Contrary to what everyone’s telling me, I feel like I failed her.”
There is a small warning on the front of the toothpaste tube that the product contains the ingredient Recaldent and milk protein, and there is also cautionary wording on the back.
According to Altamirano, the prescription toothpaste involved in her daughter’s case is not commonly used.
Since her death, Denise’s story has been shared thousands of times on social media, and a GoFundMe page set up by her uncle has more than surpassed the initial goal of $10,000 for funeral costs.
Altamirano wants to remind other families who have to manage food allergies to never make assumptions about labels or ingredients, she told Allergic Living.
“Read everything. Don’t get comfortable, just because you’ve been managing for several years," she said. “You can’t get comfortable or be embarrassed or afraid to ask and ensure that ingredients are OK. Be that advocate for your child.”
As parents of children with food allergies hear Denise’s story, Dr. David Stukus, a pediatric allergist and associate professor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, emphasizes that the sequence of events described by Denise’s mother is extremely rare.
"There are food proteins in many different medications and nonfood products," he said. "But by and large, the type of food and the amount of food is not nearly enough to cause any reaction in the vast majority of people with food allergies."
Stukus added that people with food allergies have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than they do of dying from an allergic reaction to food.
"We don't want to trivialize this because we want people to be careful, but we also don't want them to be afraid to leave their house,” he said.
Almost all deaths from an allergic reaction to food happen because the child or young adult had an underlying condition such as asthma that made the reaction more severe, according to Stukus. These cases also often involve either a lack of or a delay in the administration of epinephrine.