A nine-year-old girl died after having a severe allergic reaction to a hot dog bun while on a dream family holiday to Disneyland, an inquest heard.
Ava-Grace Stevens had spent the day with her family at the theme park in Orlando, Florida when tragedy struck on October 28, 2019.
The family had returned to their villa for dinner when Ava had an allergic reaction to cow’s milk in a hot dog bun bought from a shop in the US, the hearing was told.
Despite the efforts of her family and paramedics who performed CPR, she was pronounced dead at hospital.
A coroner described the family’s loss as “tragic” and ruled the little girl’s death as accidental at an inquest on Wednesday.
Ava’s dad Geoffrey Stevens told the hearing he and his wife had taken care to meet their daughter’s milk-free dietary needs but US food labels were not as clear to read as those in the UK.
In a statement read out to an inquest in Northampton, Mr Stevens also revealed how the harrowing events unfolded that night.
Following a day at Walt Disney World the family enjoyed a dinner of hot dogs before Ava went to watch a film in the villa’s cinema room, he said.
But Ava’s younger brother Harrison, who also has allergies, soon began to “breathe funny” and his face started to “swell”.
Mr Stevens said he “immediately” knew that the foods they had eaten contained milk.
He said: “They [Harrison and Ava] both ate dinner fine and went to play.
“I was then made aware Harrison was breathing funny and his face was swelling.
“I went downstairs to check the food labels, as I read the labels I saw it said ‘non-fat milk’.
“I knew immediately it contained skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
“I ran to Ava, who was watching a film in the cinema room. When I asked Ava if she was ok she said she was.”
Mr Stevens said he then went back up to his son and gave him more treatment.
Ava’s mother Stephanie then saw her daughter was now having a reaction, which caused the girl’s face to turn grey and stopped her from breathing.
The inquest heard how Ava was placed onto the floor and given CPR while an ambulance was called.
Police and paramedics then arrived and Ava was rushed to hospital.
Mr Stevens said: “I was called into a room and told by a doctor there was nothing they could do to save Ava.
“I can say this was an awful, tragic accident.”
Ava’s allergies included exacerbation of asthma, cat and dog hair allergies, severe cow’s milk allergy which caused anaphylactic reactions, and she was also seen regularly by a doctor for breathing difficulties.
The inquest heard how prior to the holiday, the girl’s parents took steps to make sure everything was safe for their children.
Mr Stevens said: “In the run up to the holiday Stephanie and I took Ava to visit the doctors.
“We also got extra prescription medication for the holiday. We did everything we could to ensure they were not around dairy products.
“Everyone [the wider family] had been briefed about Harrison and Ava’s allergies and they knew not to share food.”
Mr Stevens said he and his wife also went grocery shopping the day before, where they checked all of the food items were suitable for the children.
He said and all of the food in the house was placed “up high” so they could not get it.
However, when shopping in America, Mr Stevens said the food labels in the UK are “clearer to read” than in the US, with many details “tucked behind labels”.
The pathologist working on the case said Ava had an “exacerbation of asthma in the context of probable food allergen exposure”.
Northamptonshire Senior Coroner Anne Pember said: “This is a tragic loss of a little girl who was clearly very loved.
“Huge steps were taken by her parents to ensure she was given appropriate food.”
The coroner concluded that Ava’s death was accidental.
In a heartbreaking blog post, Ava’s mum paid tribute to her daughter and spoke of her guilt at not being able to protect her.
She said: “The loss of my beautiful daughter Ava-Grace at age 9 completely destroyed me.
“She was full of life, excited about our holiday, kind, generous and loud. She loved to sing, dance and practise her gymnastics, wherever we were.
“Her passing was sudden and unexpected; even knowing she had a severe allergy we had always kept her safe.
“Sadly, the night we lost her, in October 2019, the medications we always thought could save her life were ineffective.
“My husband, Geoff, and the emergency services worked tirelessly to save my little girl but to no avail.
“My tremendous guilt lies in the last words she heard me say. I’d given her the first EpiPen; it didn’t work!
“I went into complete panic mode and screamed that she was going to die.
“The fear in her eyes as she asked: “Am I going to die?” will haunt me for the rest of my life.
“I will never, ever forgive myself for that. I will never forgive myself for how I broke and had to be dragged out of the room.
“I was brought back in a few minutes later thinking she had been put in the recovery position, only to see her Daddy administering chest compressions.
“She was taken to hospital where the fight continued; a fight that was ultimately lost.”
A Justgiving page was set up at the time of her death and has since raised over £10,200 for the family.
Anyone wishing to donate to the family can still do so here.