Tragedy Inspiring Action
Joanna Salmingo was a big fan of Japanese culture. “She took Japanese lessons in school and always wanted to go to Japan,” recalls her older brother Joey Salmingo.
On August 8th, 30-year-old Joanna returned to the home she shared with her parents in Markham, Ontario, with Japanese mochi. She was excited to have found a new self-serve bar for the pastel-colored dessert balls in her local Whole Foods Market.
The popular treats, which Whole Foods had first unveiled in 2017 across the U.S. with great success, are usually made with glutinous rice dough that’s filled with ice cream. What Joanna didn’t realize was that the mochi that Whole Foods was selling contained cashew milk as the main ingredient – and she was allergic to tree nuts, in addition to peanuts and shellfish.
Swiftly, Joanna succumbed to her first severe reaction of her life. Despite administering her epinephrine auto-injector, she soon lost consciousness as her mother, Diana Salmingo, who is a nurse, performed CPR compressions, while waiting for the ambulance. Joanna, who suffered [significant] brain damage, never regained consciousness and died in hospital on August 24.
The only other notable reaction the woman, whom Joey Salmingo describes as “an angel, who would give you the shirt off her back,” had was as a toddler. At that time, 27 years ago, an allergen exposure in a grocery store led to an outbreak of itchy hives and later, to an allergist’s diagnosis of her food allergies.
Despite the Salmingo family’s devastation at Joanna’s loss, Joey and his mother are on a mission to educate about the realities, the risks and the need for readiness with food allergies. They [have launched] The Food Allergy Training & Education Initiative or FATE – employing Joey’s connections as a U.S. and Canadian TV host with a network of influential food industry contacts, as well as his mother’s own network in the health field. Their aim is to educate – and Joey is even aware of how little he really appreciated about the severity of food allergies until his sister’s fatal reaction.
From the medical aspect, the Salmingos want to get more people trained to do CPR in case of a swift-progressing anaphylactic emergency. Joey fears that people have become over-confident about epinephrine. “We have been conditioned to think of the auto-injector as a reversal or an antidote, it is not,” Joey says based on Joanna’s experience. “It buys you time; you always have to call 911, and a lot of people have reached out and said, ‘I had no idea that you’re still supposed to call 911’ – everybody thinks it’s the antidote.”
Joey also wants to raise awareness and effect changes in allergen labeling. Like many people with food allergies, he doesn’t think Joanna paid much heed to precautionary warnings, presuming (as he used to) that these were just blanket food industry legal disclaimers. “If she saw a ‘may contain’ sticker, it didn’t bother her because we thought everything had to say ‘may contain’ nowadays legally.”
At the Markham Whole Foods mochi display, Joey photographed a ‘Food Allergies?” display case sticker which Joanna likely saw. It read: “Despite taking every precaution, we cannot guarantee that our items are free of trace amounts of peanuts, tree nuts, soy, dairy, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, sesame seeds or allergens.”
However, as this was an in-store display, in both Canada and the U.S., Whole Foods isn’t required under allergen labeling laws to label the ingredients. While there are ring-bound ingredients cards available at the display, this isn’t akin to the clear labeling required on packaged foods. Joey thinks his sister would not have noticed the cards, since she would have likely dismissed the ‘may contain’ warning and presumed she knew standard mochi ingredients. “It’s almost always just made of glutinous rice with ice cream on the inside,” he notes.
Through FATE, Joey also wants to raise awareness so that adults like Joanna, who have lived for years reaction-free, are sufficiently informed and do not grow complacent. “If you’re 30 years old, and you have never experienced an allergic reaction, you’re going to think that you’re OK with it,” he said. “She wouldn’t have used the same knife used for a peanut butter sandwich – she knew better; she was cognizant.”
But ‘may contain’ stickers, he knows Joanna wouldn’t have considered as serious. And what Joey is certain she did not know, was that cashew milk, in this case, was a key ingredient.
Published: September 19, 2018
August 8, 2018
On August 8th, my sister Joanna, accidentally reacted to her nut allergy from a dessert she purchased from Whole Foods. What was labeled as ‘non-dairy, vegan’ and ‘may contain traces of certain allergens’ caused misdirection as the dessert’s first ingredient was cashew milk.
Joanna always carried an updated EpiPen®, but that night, it didn’t seem to work (however we will never know as she wasn’t within view when this all went down). We can only assume that it bought her enough time for her to notify us that something was seriously wrong. We were all home to bear witness to the emergency.
Her reaction caused her airway to swell and eventually lose consciousness. We lost her pulse for a significant period of time and while the fast actions of CPR by my mother (a working nurse of 40 years), and the continued actions of EMS crews when they arrived were of medical grade care, too much time had been lost. Repercussions led to permanent brain damage from oxygen deprivation - irreversible by current conventional western medicine. This led to eventual brain death over a period of 17 days in ICU.
The Gift of Life
The love and support from our families, friends, relatives and in some cases, complete strangers outweigh our grief and sorrow. Our happy memories of my sister and her selflessness and generosity, completely mirror that of a saint and we could not be more proud to offer my sister the opportunity to give the gift of life to those that await a second chance. On August 25th, she fulfilled those wishes thanks to Trillium Gift of Life Network.
Joanna’s gifts went to 4 persons, each needing something critical to continue their lives with their families — to imagine how these families felt upon receiving that call, is enough to set our hearts at ease and we wish nothing but contentment and perhaps a renewed sense of purpose for these individuals, whomever they may be.
Joanna’s left & right kidneys, liver and heart live in these 4 people, who were given a second chance.
And knowing her heart continues to beat, is indeed a gift to us as well.
Tragedy Inspiring Action
As tragic and as unexpected as the events were, we see so much light, love and an overwhelming feeling of joy and pride in what Joanna has accomplished in her life here with us. Our hearts are full, just as our Jojo would want them to be and it goes without saying that she was always the type of person to connect people through her tender cadence.
So, we celebrate her life and her accomplishments with friends, family, relatives and the people who started as strangers, but are now a part of our lives thanks to our superhero connection.
She has taught us valuable lessons in love, family and support, but most of all, she has taught me what it truly means to be wealthy. Her IG handle being @TheGirlWanderz makes so much sense now. Good luck on your eternal wander, Joanna.
Thank you, kiddo. Thank you, our angel. We know you’ll always watch over us with that soft smile and tender cadence. I love you. We love you. Forever.