WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWBT) - The tragic death of a Chesterfield first grader has already changed Virginia law. Now her mother wants to save the lives of children across the country.
7-year-old Amarria Johnson died after an allergic reaction to a peanut she ate at school. Her death led to Amarria's law, which will put EpiPens in every school in the state. Today, her mother took that fight to Washington, D.C. as part of a nationwide effort.
Laura Pendleton's message to members of Congress is plain and simple: she wants every child with food allergies to have access to epinephrine at school. That message is being well received but her work is far from over.
Grieving mother turned activist. Laura Pendleton tugs at the heartstrings of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
"I feel like I'm doing something in memory of my daughter, but I'm helping so many other children," said Pendleton.
Pendleton brought her fight to Washington three weeks after Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed Amarria's law, named after her 7-year-old daughter Amarria Johnson. She died in January after eating a peanut during recess at Hopkins Elementary.
Pendleton tells lawmakers she lost her angel that day.
"I just think about her and it keeps me strong," said Pendleton.
Pendleton is joined by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and a California father who shares her pain. Brian Hom's 18-year-old son died from an allergic reaction during a family vacation. Like Pendleton, he wants to highlight the need for emergency epinephrine when seconds count.
"This was the worst, heartbreaking day for us; that someone reached into our chest and ripped out our hearts," said Hom.
The bill, which would require schools to have epinephrine in stock, has strong bipartisan support in both the house and senate. Congressmen Phil Roe and Steny Hoyer call it simple common sense legislation.
"If you can do this, that's all it takes," said Roe.
"When parents send their children off to school in the morning they should be able to worry about their kids doing well in class and making friends, not whether the school has life saving epinephrine available in the event of serious allergy," said Hoyer.
Pendleton won't stop until all children with food allergies are protected.
"Until it's done. Until it's done," said Pendleton.
She's working with FAAN to get additional support on Capitol Hill. Right now the bill is awaiting action in a House committee.
As for Virginia's EpiPen law, the state health commissioner has to issue guidelines recommended by a special work group. From there, the Department of Education will send out memos to superintendents. The state law takes effect July 1st.