Professional dancer dies after eating now recalled cookies sold at Stew Leonard's; family's lawyer called death '100% preventable'
Attorneys for the family of 25-year-old Orla Baxendale, a professional dancer originally from the UK who had been living in Manhattan for six years, told News 12 Connecticut on Wednesday that her death on Jan. 11 was "100% preventable."
"Orla was a 25-year-old young, vivacious, beautiful professional dancer living and working here in Manhattan. She comes from a wonderful family from the UK," said Attorney Marijo Adimey.
The family's lawyer said Baxendale died after going into anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction.
"The fact that she isn't with us today is absolutely unreal," said Adimey.
The Long Island company that provided Stew Leonard's with Florentine Cookies that triggered Baxendale’s fatal allergic reaction says it informed the grocery chain that it was changing its ingredients over the summer.
On Wednesday, Stew Leonard's released a video stating that they were not informed by wholesalers of a change of ingredients to include peanuts. However, Cookies United has come forward saying that they did inform Stew Leonard's about this change in July.
"I'm here with our family and, I mean we're just all devastated, very sad. I have four daughters, one of them is in her twenties. I can imagine how that family feels right now," said Leonard in the released video.
The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection reported that Bexandale consumed the cookie at a social gathering in Connecticut. Authorities say the ingredient list did not state that it contained peanuts.
Stew Leonard’s has since issued a recall for the product.
Cookies United says the product leaves its Islip facility in packaging that indicates it contains peanuts. When it arrives at Stew Leonard’s, the packaging is changed. Cookies United says the Stew Leonard’s packaging failed to disclose that the product contained peanuts.
Punita Ponda serves as the associate division chief for allergy and immunology for Northwell Health. She says food allergy deaths are avoidable.
"It's completely tragic and should not be occurring," says Ponda. She added, "From the manufacturer's point of view, this is something that if care was taken to enough levels to avoid this from being an exposure for the person, that's the first level of prevention."
The specialist in food allergies says families should take a moment to go over allergy action plans, including what first symptoms typically appear in loved ones with a severe allergy. She says carrying medication at all times is a nonnegotiable too.
"It's like when you go out and you want to make sure you have your wallet and ID with you. It's the same thing. If you're going on and could be exposed to food in any situation, you should bring your EpiPen," Ponda says.