Supporters step up in Markham, Ont. to raise awareness of severe food allergies

Supporters attended the first annual "Walk for Andrea" in Markham, Ont. Sunday morning. Craig Wadman / Global News

A couple of hundred people marched at Milne Dam Conservation Park in Markham, Ont. Sunday morning during the first annual “Walk for Andrea” to support those who suffer from severe food allergies and to help find a cure.

The walk is named after Andrea Mariano, an 18-year-old Queen’s University psychology student who died suddenly during her second week of classes just over a year ago.

“She had ordered a smoothie that was cross-contaminated with either dairy products or peanuts and she had an allergic reaction to that,” explained her sister Kristina Mariano.

READ MORE: Canadian student dies after ordering smoothie on campus; suffers severe allergic reaction: family

Andrea knew she had an allergy to both, but unfortunately and uncharacteristically, she didn’t have her EpiPen on her.

In an effort to someday prevent other families from enduring similar tragedies, the Marianos lent their daughter’s name to this event.

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“We’re fundraising money for the anaphylaxis program at SickKids to find a cure for food allergies,” said Kristina.

READ MORE: First-year Canadian university student dies of severe allergic reaction

The event organized by Peter Deboran and his wife Jyoti Parmar sought to raise $15,000 for the program. They were touched by the Mariano family’s story because it hits close to home.

“Myself and my wife have two children with severe food allergies,” said Deboran.

“We’ve noticed over the last decade or so that more and more children are being diagnosed with severe food allergies.”

WATCH: How to use an EpiPen and recognize the signs of anaphylaxis (May 19)

Medical professors have said there has been a significant rise in food allergies over the years. According to Dr. Eyal Grunebaum with The Hospital For Sick Children, it affects “more than one in 300,000 Canadians. There’s one child with a food allergy in every class in Ontario.”

He said there are a number of factors contributing to that rise such as the age at which certain foods are introduced and changes to food handling procedures.

The good news, according to Dr. Grunebaum, is that there have also been major advancements in treatment and early intervention in recent years.

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“We believe that within 10 years, we can find a cure for food allergies and make our life allergy-free.”

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