Florida family turning tragedy into awareness about deadly food allergies

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Merrill and Bobby Debbs, of West Palm Beach, had to bury their 11-year-old son Oakley three months ago.

“When I would say good night to him, I would say, ‘Goodnight cute boy,’ and he’d say, ‘Goodnight cute mommy,’” said Merrill Debbs.

Oakley, a freckled faced, blonde haired athletic straight A student, had asthma his entire life, and he also had a food allergy. It was on a family Thanksgiving vacation where a cake was delivered to their home with no ingredient label. Oakley took a bite and did not realize nuts were in the cake.

“I grabbed Oakley and he looked at me and said, 'Dad I think I am going to die,’” said Bobby Debbs.

“It took 15 minutes. It was a delayed anaphylactic shock. That was it, he was gone. Blue, stopped breathing, over,” said Merrill Debbs.

The parents told Channel 9's Martha Sugalski that they know how to handle their son's asthma and that there was never a problem they couldn't control. However they said they did not know that he go into anaphylactic shock with a mild food allergy.

“We feel the more people that we can get made aware of this and educate them on anaphylaxis, we will be creating a legacy for our son,” said Bobby Debbs.

The family started “Red Sneakers for Oakley,” an organization designed to spread awareness about food allergies. They said they hope the organization leas to more research for better labeling on foods and to educate and make people aware of what to do if their loved one went into anaphylactic shock.

The Debbs came up with the name because Oakley loved to play football and soccer, and also loved to wear his red sneakers.