“My brother and I, we’re best friends," Lucia Zaremba, a student at Poly Prep, told BK Reader. "We do everything together; we share pretty much everything, except for allergies."
After years of watching her younger brother John, who she “Loves more than anything in the world,” fear for his life whenever he would eat, the 15-year-old student decided to approach lawmakers to propose legislation that would make EpiPens more accessible in public places.
“This [legislation] is the best possible way for me to be there for him,” she said.
Food allergy is a sensitive topic with a lot of heartache for the Zaremba family. Lucia's brother became allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, legumes and red meat after developing alpha-gal syndrome due to a tick bite.
“He went into an anaphylactic shock after eating a steak that my dad cooked the previous night,” Lucia said.
“So, for him, the question became, 'If I can’t be safe eating a steak that my own dad cooks, what am I safe eating?’”
This fear grips not only John and his entire family but more than 5.6 million children and their families nationwide. And, unlike Lucia, who carries an EpiPen with her at all times to protect her brother, many people don’t even know they have an allergy until they react.
Watching her brother's first attack six years ago traumatized Lucia. But, it also instilled in her the drive to make EpiPens, a life-saving medication used when someone is experiencing a severe allergic reaction, widely accessible. And that was what she proposed, when given the chance to speak to State Senator Andrew Gounardes earlier this summer.
I want to establish a sense of safety for those who suffer from food allergies. I want them to feel safe and secure when being out in public, I want them to feel protected. I also want them to know that people care about their allergies and that it's real, that they're not alone, and that they don't have to feel isolated in their experience.Lucia Zaremba
Gounardes agreed with Lucia and applauded the tenth grader for her effort.
“Thousands of families face the dangers of anaphylaxis every day, and ensuring that EpiPens are accessible to New Yorkers across the state in public venues is a common sense solution to me,” Gounardes said.
The Senator is set to formally introduce the bill to the State Senate on Jan. 4, hoping it will be signed into law by June 2023.
With this legislation, she also hopes to lend conversations around allergies a new meaning.
“We avoided talking about my brother’s reactions because it was difficult,” said Lucia.
“But now, we see it as something that we've used to bring change to the world and save lives rather than something that almost took his life.”
Nancy Zaremba, Lucia's mother, said she is proud of her daughter for taking what was a terrible experience and turning it into a positive thing that could change the life of her brother and everyone in New York, especially those who are not aware of their allergies.
A 15-year-old who plays softball and writes for her school newspaper, Lucia said that she now has added responsibilities.
“Before, I was just a normal girl. I didn’t have any image to maintain,” Lucia said.
“With my proposal, with my brother looking up to me as a sister who is working to protect lives like his, and with the publicity, there are responsibilities that fall onto me to maintain that figure and to continue putting my best foot forward in this process.”