Girl, nine, dies from a severe allergic reaction after eating a single bite of a pancake her father cooked as a treat.
A devastated mum has relived the moment when her nine-year-old daughter was killed by eating just one bite of a pancake, cooked for the youngster as a treat by her dad.
Nainika Tikoo, from Harrow, northwest London, passed away on May 22 this year, after suffering a severe anaphylactic reaction – a rapid onset and potentially lethal allergic response – to the lunchtime snack.
Her IT consultant dad Vinod, 41, had cooked dairy-free pancakes, as his daughter was allergic, with blackberries after Nainika asked to try them for the first time.
Five days after she was admitted to hospital, Nainika’s parents made the decision to switch off their daughter’s life support after doctors revealed she’d suffered irreversible brain damage.
Before she passed away, doctors ran a prick test and discovered that she was mildly allergic to blackberries.
Her mother Lakshmi, 37, said: ‘The doctor said it looked like it wasn’t the blackberry on it’s own, but there was something to do with dairy. The pancakes were dairy free, but we’re not sure if the ingredients had been contaminated or something. We didn’t have any dairy products at home. The exact cause is unknown and it has left us with a lot of questions.’
Nainika Tikoo with her dad Vinod on holiday.
Lakshmi with her daughter who passed away after five days in hospital, when her heartbroken parents agreed to turn off her life support machine
Lakshmi, who is now campaigning to raise awareness of allergies and funding for research, said: ‘My husband called me and he was howling into the phone, ‘Please come home and save her.’
She rushed home from her job, as a political consultant, to find her daughter lying on the floor, turning blue, as she battled for life.
‘I walked into a scene where she was stripped and lying on the floor, almost blue and paramedics were trying desperately to resuscitate her.
‘They rushed her to Northwick hospital, northwest London. After trying for an hour, her pulse came back but she had been starved of oxygen and there was a lot of irreversible damage. I think at that point, I didn’t understand what that meant.
‘I was thinking paralysis or disability but that she would bounce back eventually. They took her to ICU and told us it wasn’t looking good, but I was still thinking she would be treated and get better.’
Sadly, although she was taken to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, there was nothing more that could be done, as two days after her severe reaction, Nainika was declared brain dead.
On May 25, five days after eating the pancake, her parents – who have now set up a trust in their daughter’s name – had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn their only child’s life-support machine off.
Nainika had struggled with allergies since she was tiny, but they had never been deemed ‘high risk,’ according to her mother.
Lakshmi said: ‘For that reason, we had never seen an allergist. We don’t blame anyone for Nainika’s death, but we do wish that there had been more awareness about allergies and we’re determined to speak out in her name to stop any other families from going through this devastating pain.’
Exclusively breastfed from birth, it wasn’t until Nainika was six-months-old that her parents discovered her food allergies.
Her mother explained: ‘We are of the Hindu faith and at around six months old, we hold a ceremony called an Annaprashana to mark a baby starting to have solid food.
‘There is a small ceremony, where you give babies rice milk. Nainika just had a few spoonfuls and it caused a reaction. We didn’t know at that point that you could be allergic to dairy, but her whole body started swelling up.’
About 30 minutes after getting home, the couple also noticed a blotchy red rash all over their baby’s body and rushed her to Queen’s Medical Centre hospital in Nottingham, where they were living at the time.
Lakshmi said: ‘The doctor sat down with us and said that it looked like she had a dairy allergy. We had no idea that there was something like that. They said that the allergy was so severe that she couldn’t be in the same room if you were boiling milk or something like that.’
Doctors performed a prick test, to determine if there were any other common foods that Nainika was allergic to.
‘It showed that she was sensitive to soya and allergic to dairy and eggs. From that point, we just learnt to cut them out,’ Lakshmi explained.
When Nainika turned three, she started experiencing breathlessness and wheezing at night and, after going back to their doctor, she was diagnosed with asthma.
‘She was given inhalers and we had checkups every year, but her allergies weren’t judged to be high risk and we didn’t get much advice about that,’ said Lakshmi.
Over the years, the family learnt to control Nainika’s condition with a restricted diet, but towards the end of 2015, after accidentally eating some milk chocolate buttons at school, she suffered a severe reaction.
Lakshmi added: ‘About a year and a half back, she accidentally consumed chocolate dairy buttons. She had a severe reaction and stopped breathing for a few seconds
‘She was rushed to hospital and they treated her for the allergy. That was the first time that she was prescribed an EpiPen, used for the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis, and they told me how to use it, but we didn’t realise things like that you can use more than one if the first one doesn’t work.
‘We were never given formal training and my husband wasn’t with us, so they relied on me showing him what to do.
‘One of the last conversations my husband had with Nainika was when he took the EpiPen out, and she said, “Dad you haven’t been trained in how to use it”.’
‘He reassured her that he would read the instructions and it would be OK. Fortunately, he used it properly, but he could have done it wrong and that is so dangerous.’
After the chocolate buttons incident, Nainika’s parents continued to control her over the following months and she had no more major reactions until the one that so tragically took her life.
Lakshmi continued: ‘May 20 was a normal Saturday morning. She’d finished her weekly horse riding lesson and was hungry, so had asked her dad if they could have some pancakes. On the way home, they picked up flour and she asked if she could have some blackberries with it. She had never had them before, but wanted to try some.
‘My husband made dairy-free pancakes, like he would normally, but with a few blackberries sliced up. She had one bite of that pancake and she reacted pretty violently. The rash came up and she started swelling. He gave her Piriton, anti-allergy medicine, her inhaler and more Piriton.
‘Then he felt she was getting really bad, so he gave her the EpiPen and called the ambulance. He had to start giving her mouth to mouth and the ambulance arrived in just a few minutes. She had lost her pulse by that time and they tried to resuscitate her.’
Lakshmi rushed home from work, finding her little girl lying on the floor, as the paramedics tried to save her.
Two days later, after waiting for family to arrive, the couple kissed their little girl goodbye.
After her death, Lakshmi and Vinood set up a foundation in their daughter’s name to try and raise awareness and funding for allergy research.
Nainika Tikoo with mum Lakshmi at a school Christmas play
She said: ‘We set up a JustGiving page, so people could donate in lieu of flowers for the funeral. We were amazed when we raised about £2,000 in an hour. Then we increased the target and we just kept exceeding it. We raised a total of £14,000.
‘Since Nainika’s death, we have realised a lot of parents are struggling with their children’s allergies and we needed to do something to help.
‘We want to create awareness material, contribute to research projects and get the message out there. We don’t know if there’s anything we could have done to prevent Nainika’s death, but we can make sure that parents know where to get help, we might be able to stop this happening to another family.
‘We are just parents. We aren’t experts. We just want to ask questions to change the attitudes towards allergies and help to save lives.’
You can find out more about Nainika’s foundation here