Justin Mathews was just doing his job when he entered a fire station in Edmonton, Canada, to inspect the air quality. It was something he has done many times before, but this time, he ended up fighting for breath after he inhaled the air.
The 33-year-old man had a nut allergy.
Mathews went into anaphylactic shock from the nut particle-filled air. He rushed outside to catch his breath, but it was too late.
His parents, David and Mabel Mathews, rushed to the hospital to be by their son’s side. When they arrived, they found him unresponsive, in a coma, and hooked up to a breathing machine. That’s when they received devastating news. Mabel said:
“The doctors said 80 per cent of the brain is not active at all.”
Five days later, he passed away after being removed from life support.
Mathews’s parents explained that he was very cautious about his nut allergy when it came to food. But he didn’t know he had to worry about the air he was breathing, so he did not have his epinephrine autoinjector when he went in to inspect the building.
His sister, Shari Reklow, wants to see warnings issued about unsuspecting products that include nuts in them:
“It’s not just a food. It’s being used in commercial and industrial applications and that needs to be regulated. […]
You can find walnut shells in tires, in sandblasting. It’s in places you don’t even think to look look [sic] for it. If you’re not made properly aware, how can you protect yourself? How can you protect your family?”
Reklow hopes to see warnings at job sites and placed on labels. She also wants products that could be life-threatening to those with allergies to be regulated as a food would be:
“It’s taken very seriously as a food product. How many times do you see may contain nuts, or come into contact with nuts in the factory? How many times do you see that on the labels?”
Alberta Labour spokesperson Trent Bancarz explained that Justin’s death from the air was a rarity:
“It certainly was a very unusual incident. I’ve certainly never experienced anything like this one. It’s quite rare and uncommon.”
The family is now working to make others aware of the danger that could be in the air they breathe. Mabel said:
“I want to make sure that there is no other mom or dad or sisters lose their brother again.”
“There is a flaw for sure, and I’m really sorry my brother had to pay the price. We’re all paying the price now.”
An Occupational Health and Safety investigation into his death is continuing, as his family fights to come to terms with their unexpected loss.
Watch his parents discuss their devastating loss below: