A Seton Hall University student is alleging her health and safety were put at risk two weeks ago when Public Safety and the South Orange Police Department (SOPD) failed to administer an EpiPen to counter an allergic reaction.
Marygrace Smith, a junior graphic design and advestising major, said that while on her way back to campus in a Lyft with her close friend Maddie Guerrero she began to experience the onset of what she knew to be anaphylaxis, a type of allergic reaction which involves the respiratory and/or cardiovascular system. “My allergies progress when I have a reaction, slowly, and then all at once,” Smith explained, “so I felt my throat closing, and I said to Maddie ‘I think there’s a real problem.’”
Guerrero then proceeded to call Seton Hall’s Department of Public Safety to inform them of Smith’s situation. They were met in the Public Safety parking lot by Security Manager Dr. Jeffery Garland, who had dialed 911 for an ambulance as soon as he received their initial call.
As Smith describes, she and Guerrero were then taken to a back room to wait on the arrival of first responders. According to the official Public Safety timeline, corroborated by CCTV footage, the SOPD arrived on the scene roughly four minutes later.
“I would’ve usually been in the hospital by this point,” Smith added.
It was at this point the severity of Smith’s reaction became progressively worse and she asked both the SOPD and Public Safety officers to administer the EpiPen injection. Both SOPD officers declined to give her the injection on the basis that they were concerned she would press legal charges against them if the injection were improperly administered.
According to Public Safety, Garland allowed the SOPD to take the lead, as is the usual procedure.
Smith claimed that one of the SOPD officers further remarked to her: “If you were my daughter or my sister, I would use it, but since you’re not I don’t want a charge against me.” He then asked how he should use the EpiPen if Smith were to pass out.
Smith reported that this comment made her very nervous as EpiPens are typically used to prevent a patient from losing consciousness, as that indicates that breathing is becoming increasingly difficult. According to the American Red Cross, the leading cause of death with anaphylaxis is “because the person’s breathing is severely restricted” and oxygen cannot flow to the brain.
It was at this point that Guerrero grabbed the EpiPen and injected Smith. The South Orange Rescue Squad (SORS) arrived a few minutes later to take her to St. Barnabas Medical Center.
According to Smith, by the time the SORS arrived — roughly 16 minutes after the SOPD — she usually would have had two injections of epinephrine, the hormone inside of EpiPens, and was on the brink of passing out.
“If they had waited to use the EpiPen any longer I could have been brain damaged as a result of a lack of oxygen,” she reported.
Between the first interaction with Public Safety and the SORS ambulance leaving campus, the incident lasted a total of 26 minutes.
The SOPD could not be reached for comment.
In the aftermath of the incident, Smith tweeted that Public Safety had reportedly refused to administer the EpiPen on the basis of never having used one before.
In an interview with Associate Vice President for Public Safety, Pat Linfante, he said that it would never be the policy of Public Safety to deny any treatment to a student in need.
According to the “New Jersey Higher Education Epinephrine Act,” licensed campus medical professionals, trained designees, or physicians are indeed permitted to administer EpiPens without fear of legal retribution.
Public Safety Associate Director Sergio Olivia, explained that Seton Hall is in the process of adopting the voluntary guidelines specified in the bill;.However, Public Safety officers are not yet certified as “trained designees,” which means they technically are not yet protected under the law and that would explain why no one from Public Safety to administer the EpiPen.
Olivia did note, though, that Public Safety has been in contact with the Department of Health Services since early September to set up training dates for their officers to become certified in EpiPen injections.
In the interim, Public Safety still technically does not have a policy on EpiPens. Instead, it follows the advice of the Red Cross First Aid Participant’s Manual which states, “If a person [going into anaphylaxis] is conscious and able to use the auto-injector, help him or her in any way asked [if permitted by state regulations].”
Student opinions regarding the incident were focused on concern toward both the SOPD’s and Public Safety’s seeming lack of training.
Carolyn Murray, a freshman biology major, expressed concern that Public Safety and the SOPD seemed to have not been as well trained as they should have been. “I think that the SOPD and Public Safety need better training on what to do in those situations,” she said, “I know Health Services is supposed to be working on that.”
Jacob Abel, a junior diplomacy major, expressed a similar sentiment, “The whole situation is kind of concerning,” he said. “If it’s part of Public Safety’s duty to administer it, then I definitely feel like it’s something they should do if a student needs it.”
As for Smith, she too expressed disappointment in the response from first responders and wished it had been better. “The fact that they didn’t know how to use it [the EpiPen] was scary,” Smith said. “I don’t know what would’ve happened to me if Maddie wasn’t there.”
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.