Researchers estimate that food allergies affect more than 15 million Americans, a number that continues to grow. In fact, every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room with life-threatening conditions. Miss Delaware 2016, Amanda Debus, was shocked when it happened to her.
In 2010, Debus faced a life-threatening allergy scare while enjoying a seemingly ordinary summer day at her family’s barbeque. She realized she couldn’t breathe after eating just one serving of pineapple, a food she had previously enjoyed for years. However, this time the fruit caused her throat to close up and she was rushed to the emergency room.
“It was probably the scariest moment of my life,” said Debus. “Especially when you’ve been eating something your entire life and all of a sudden you have a reaction. I could have died in that moment.”
Debus was diagnosed with anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. She was lucky to have survived the anaphylactic shock.
Ever since the incident, the 24-year-old Middletown resident created her platform to spread awareness of allergy and asthma conditions in schools throughout Delaware. “It pushed me to start teaching about the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis,” she said. “It also inspired me to become an advocate and to push for legislation.”
Debus has worked with the Delaware Governor’s Office to pass the emergency epinephrine law in schools, which requires schools to keep epinephrine on hand in case someone experiences anaphylactic shock. Now as Miss Delaware, she is working on extending the law to other public spaces such as restaurants and daycares.
In addition, Debus has partnered with the Allergy & Asthma Network to teach children the importance of being aware of this life-threatening disease. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to end needless death and suffering due to asthma, allergies and related conditions through outreach, education, advocacy and research.
“I really do think that this is something that can’t be swept under the rug anymore,” said Debus. “People need to learn more about allergies because it is becoming a global epidemic.”
Debus often visits elementary, middle and high schools to inform students about allergies and asthma. “It’s not always a topic that’s addressed, so I think it is very important to discuss with those age groups,” said Debus.
In future years, Debus hopes to start writing her own book dealing with the topic. “I read a book when I go into elementary schools and I find that kids are really receptive to stories that involve the topic of allergies. So I’m working on writing my own,” she said. Once written, she hopes to promote and distribute the book nationally through her partnership with the Allergy & Asthma Network.
Debus plans on competing in the Miss America Competition this September. She says her drive is what makes her a strong candidate. “I push myself to strive for the best and to be the best version of myself,” she said. “Once I have a goal, I’m going for it no matter what.” Debus also believes her passion for her platform will differentiate her from the other contestants. “Because allergies affect me personally, it just makes me so much more passionate about promoting my platform and getting the word out,” she said.
Before winning Miss Delaware in June 2016, Debus won the title for Miss First State 2016. In addition, she was awarded Miss Delaware Teen USA in 2011 and Miss Delaware’s Outstanding Teen in 2008. Debus is a currently a rising senior at the University of Delaware. She is majoring in health and physical education with a double minor in dance and health, physical activity and disability. After school, she hopes to remain living in Delaware as an adaptive physical education teacher.