LISMORE – It’s been five years since a group of people banded together after local music teacher Karen Lynn MacDonald died of anaphylaxis.
Tonight, they’ll celebrate the fifth anniversary of the group with a variety concert at the Lismore Hall while raising funds to ensure no one else loses a loved one to a life-threatening allergy.
MacDonald was 27 when she took a bite of a cookie that contained peanut butter chips, putting her into anaphylactic shock. She later died in hospital on Sept. 3, 2005.
MacDonald had developed an allergy to peanuts as a child, but didn’t have an EpiPen, a life-saving medication that could buy precious moments for people who suffer from potentially fatal allergic reactions. After her death, a society formed in her name came together to raise funds to provide EpiPens to other people at risk.
“When it started out, we were just providing EpiPens to people in Pictou and Antigonish counties,” explained Gen Kell. “Now, we’ve expanded to Guysborough, and if the funding was there, we’d love to move to wherever the need was. But it’s the cost of the EpiPens that stops us from expanding further.”
Kell is currently the president of the group. She went to university with MacDonald at St. FX and became a close friend.
“I think she would be pleased with this,” she said. “I think she’d really enjoy the tie in to her love of music, through our variety concerts, because music was such a huge part of her life. The variety concerts are really the essence of Karen, she’d travel anywhere to entertain or lend her services, that was her helping nature.”
It’s the monthly variety concerts, held at the Lismore Hall on the last Friday of the month, that is the society’s main fundraiser. Local musicians lend their talents for the evening, usually raising around $500 in an evening – funds that allow the group to cover the purchase of as many as five EpiPens, which typically cost about $100 apiece.
The group covers the cost of an EpiPen for those who cannot afford the purchase themselves.
“The doctors officers are really buying into it now – they understand it’s an option for their patients if they can’t afford one,” Kell said. “All they have to do is have the doctor sign the form and bring it into the drug store, and we’ll pay for the EpiPen.”
Forms are currently in medical offices across the three counties, and in the last year alone, the demand for EpiPens has nearly doubled. In 2009, the group provided 55 EpiPens, and so far this year, 107 have been requested.
Kell believes the demand has grown as knowledge of the society has spread, but believes the group still has a lot of room to grow.
“We want to get even more awareness out there,” she said. “People in Lismore know about us, but besides the people going to the doctors’ offices, the general public isn’t aware yet.”
Tonight’s variety concert will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at the Lismore Community Centre and feature entertainment by Inner Voice, Kevin Murdock, Kayla Marchand, George Durning, Kitty Conscious and others. Admission is $5.