Natalie Giorgi’s parents say a powerful message lives in their daughter’s sudden death three years ago from an allergic reaction to peanuts at a signature Sacramento-run campground.
Food allergies are real, and they can kill.
On the day the Giorgis’ attorneys announced that the city reached a $15 million wrongful-death settlement with the family in the 13-year-old girl’s death at Camp Sacramento in July 2013, parents Joanne and Louis Giorgi vowed Natalie’s death would not be in vain, while chastened city officials promised changes within the next 12 months to ensure the safety of future campers.
“This will enable Natalie’s message to be much greater amplified – that Natalie’s story is not repeated,” Louis Giorgi said at a news conference announcing the settlement Wednesday at the Sacramento law offices of Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora.
“Everyone needs to pay attention to this. Be aware of what you’re serving and who you’re serving it to,” Giorgi said Wednesday, alongside his wife and a family photo of their daughter smiling on a sandy beach.
In a statement Wednesday, city officials promised steps to avert future tragedy, saying Camp Sacramento will join and become accredited with the American Camp Association within the next 12 months. The century-old Indiana-based organization ensures the quality of camp programs, from site and food service to safety and emergency procedures to transportation and sleeping quarters.
“We recognize the tremendous loss the Giorgi family has suffered and hope these steps and measures will help each of them in dealing with and healing from such a terrible loss,” city officials said in the statement. The city’s insurance carriers will pay $12 million of the $15 million settlement, city spokeswoman Linda Tucker said.
Natalie Giorgi went into anaphylactic shock July 26, 2013, after eating a marshmallow and Rice Krispies treat during a hula hoop contest on her family’s last night of a four-day family vacation at Camp Sacramento, a popular vacation spot near Lake Tahoe.
According to the lawsuit, Camp Sacramento staff had clearly marked foods containing peanuts or peanut butter or left out the ingredients during the family’s previous visits to the vacation getaway.
But on that July night, Natalie died in the frantic minutes after eating the snack. The marshmallow filling contained peanut butter.
Natalie’s parents charged in their wrongful death suit, filed in 2014 in Sacramento Superior Court, that information had been conveyed “in writing and in person numerous times” to camp operators about their daughter’s peanut allergy.”
The girl was “conscientious about avoiding foods that contained peanuts or peanut by-products,” and other children at the camp shared the same allergy – a fact known to camp personnel, according to the lawsuit.
Natalie died even after her father injected her twice with EpiPen epinephrine auto-injectors he carried for such emergencies, then broke into a nurse’s station medicine locker for a third EpiPen injection. Louis Giorgi, a urological surgeon, severed a tendon in his dominant arm in his attempt to save his daughter’s life. The injury ended Giorgi’s surgical career, said Roger Dreyer, the Giorgis’ attorney.
“Not only did he lose his daughter, he lost his career,” Dreyer said. “There is no closure for this family. The story continues forever.”
Natalie and her twin sister, Danielle, had already overcome great odds, born nearly 12 weeks premature and spending months in neonatal intensive care. Natalie had been diagnosed with the peanut allergy at age 3 after a mild reaction to hazelwood or macadamia nuts, her parents said in an earlier interview with The Sacramento Bee, but did not show symptoms of the allergy until the night at Camp Sacramento.
“When you realize this person is dead because someone didn’t take the proper steps – (food allergies) are not an annoyance. This can result in death,” Dreyer said. “This sends a message to camps and other facilities that the consequences of not doing your job can be quite significant.”
Still, Dreyer said the family was not calling on Camp Sacramento to close its doors.
“Camp Sacramento is not going to close,” Dreyer said. “It will improve, get better.”
The family in 2014 created the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Foundation dedicated to reducing the number of food allergy deaths and increasing the availability of epinephrine auto-injectors in public places. Money from the settlement will go toward research and education the foundation promotes, Dreyer said.
“Sharing Natalie’s story is important to the food allergy community,” Joanne Giorgi said. “It makes adults stop and listen. Nothing makes this easier, but it does allow us to know we’re doing good in our daughter’s name.”