Thirteen-year-old Natalie Giorgi always had a smile on her face.
“Her nickname was the sunshine girl,” Natalie’s mom Joanne Giorgi said. “She just emanated this happiness from within her and she took joy in so many things.”
Natalie had a severe peanut allergy, and was usually very careful about avoiding peanuts.
But last July at a family camp, Natalie unknowingly grabbed a a treat that contained peanut butter.
“She just ate one bite and spit it out because it didn’t taste right to her,” Joanna recalled.
Natalie felt normal for 20 minutes and then suddenly started vomiting and had trouble breathing.
Her family always carried EpiPens with them to inject the drug epinephrine in case of an emergency.
“[Her dad] administered three shots of epinephrine and unfortunately, the epinephrine didn’t work for her,” Joanna said, in tears. Natalie died as a result.
Food allergies in kids has jumped 18 percent since 1997, affecting at least four percent of children in the United States. Milk, eggs, fish and nuts are some of the most common food allergies, and Natalie’s parents wanted to make sure no other families suffer from a fatal food allergy.
“Her story resonates with people in a way that maybe the big foundations may not,” Natalie’s father Louis told TODAY.
Louis and Joanne created the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Foundation and have been busy working with the National Food Allergy Research and Education Network to raise awareness and money. They’ve also worked with a California senator to promote legislation so that the state’s schools keep EpiPens on hand in case of emergencies. .
After Natalie’s death, her school stocked up on undesignated EpiPens.
“For us, if we can make a difference in another child’s life, then it feels like that’s an extension of carrying her memory,” Joanne said.