'She knew it was life or death' - Newly-graduated pharmacist saves chef's life after nut allergy attack
A relaxing lunch out on Saturday afternoon turned into a terrifying near-death experience for Aaron McDonald, who suffers from a severe nut allergy.
As he tucked into his carvery, the 25-year-old trained chef did not realise there were traces of nuts in his food. Within seconds he went anaphylactic shock, which causes the throat to close over.
He had forgotten to take his life-saving EpiPen with him and was moments from death when a newly graduated pharmacist saved his life.
Diagnosed with an aggressive nut allergy in 2006, Aaron is supposed to carry an EpiPen injection - which contains a shot of adrenaline to reverse the effects of anaphylactic shock - with him at all times.
He said he was terrified when he realised he had forgotten it.
"It was just frightening. It has happened to me before but I've always had my pen with me," he said.
"I was in Newry and I decided to go for a carvery dinner which I had many times before with no problem. As I began to eat the stuffing I felt a sudden change straight away and I began to swell up instantly. I went looking for my medication in my bag but my EpiPen wasn't there so I really began to panic as I knew that I didn't have much time to react to the symptoms," he said.
"My face, throat, tongue and lips were starting to swell up to the point where my breathing was becoming extremely difficult. I knew if I didn't get treated the symptoms would kill me."
Aaron knew he had to act quickly given the severity of his allergy and luckily the pharmacy was just seconds away.
"I just got up and left the table. I had a very small amount of time to get medication so I didn't waste any time approaching anyone in the restaurant as I knew I needed to get to a chemist as fast as possible," he said.
Among the staff working at the McNally's Late Night Pharmacy was Noelle Holmes who had qualified as a pharmacist from Strathclyde University last October.
"Noelle was just brilliant. She knew it was a life or death situation," Aaron said.
He said he felt lucky that Noelle bypassed the need for a prescription and interview with the patient as it was such an emergency.
"The bottom line for pharmacy is that without a prescription there can be no medication given. Noelle would have been in her rights to refuse me. But she knew this was a life or death situation.
"Noelle told the student to ask me for my name. At this point Noelle didn't realised how severe my reaction was. She was communicating from the background from the back room and couldn't see me.
"When Noelle saw how bad my reaction was she decided to give me the EpiPen and ask questions later."
He added: "As a pharmacist you are supposed to interview the patient first but I was barely even breathing. Noelle had to ask me to administer the EpiPen shot myself as it can require quite a bit of force. At that time I was able to but if I had gone any further with my allergic reaction Noelle would have had to give it to me."
Noelle then rang 999 and Aaron was brought to Daisy Hill Hospital.
"The medical team told her that she had done the right thing in not waiting to give me the shot," he said.
"I am so thankful to all the staff at the chemist. They saved my life, especially Noelle, and it is important that I raise awareness of what happened," he said.
Aaron said he now wants to raise awareness and is calling for better clarity about accessing EpiPens from pharmacists without prescriptions.
In 2013, 14-year-old Emma Sloan died on a Dublin street after mistakenly eating a peanut-based sauce at a Chinese restaurant.
Her mother had been unable to get an EpiPen from a nearby pharmacy as they made their way to hospital.
Last year the Department of Health in the Republic confirmed new legislation would go through government "in the near future" and would see EpiPens made more widely available "to trained non-medical personnel for use in emergencies, through pharmacies and many other institutions".
A DHSSPS spokeswoman said: "The Human Medicines Regulations 2012 already provide for a community pharmacist to make an emergency supply of a prescription-only medicine, such as an EpiPen, without a prescription, to a patient who may not have immediate access to his own prescribed EpiPen. The regulations also permit anyone to administer such adrenaline injections for the purpose of saving life in an emergency."