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7's HERO: Eagle mother who lost 13-year-old daughter to nut allergy creates foundation in her honor

Heather Langer lost her precious daughter, Reese, in May 2021. The pain is still so raw, but she is now dedicated to raising awareness and preventing tragedy.

EAGLE, Idaho — This Mother's Day is a difficult one for Heather Langer of Eagle. It's her first Mother's Day without her precious daughter, Reese. A year ago, 13-year-old Reese had a severe allergic reaction to nuts. Sadly, she passed away four days later. 

"It will be a year this month, May 16. You almost become numb, but sharing her story seems to help," Langer said. 

The emotions are still so raw a year later. 

"She was the best kind of friend that you could ask for," Langer said. "She was friends with everyone, and she was so giving and helping."

Reese was a happy teen, a joy to her mom, a little sister to her two big brothers, and adored by her dad, Ryan. She was a student at Eagle Middle School. Reese was also a member of local cheer squad, Idaho Cheer. 

"She was a competitive cheerleader, she loved doing cheer, it was her second family," Langer said. 

Reese was allergic to nuts, and her mom said because of the allergy, she was very careful about what she ate. 

"We were at a cheer banquet last year, and she ate a dessert that she thought was safe. She had an anaphylactic reaction," Langer said with tears in her eyes. "She had baklava, which was new to her and she was told it tasted like honey and pastry, and so she thought it was safe."

However, it wasn't safe. Reese and her mom had no idea there were finely-crushed walnuts in the the crust, and Reese started to react. Her mom said in all the chaos, they realized how serious this really was. They tried Benadryl, and administered Reese's EpiPen (epinephrine injection), but Reese's reaction to the walnuts escalated quickly. 

"My first thought was that of course we would get it under control, but you could tell it was something different this time. On the drive to the emergency room, she lost consciousness, " Langer told KTVB with sadness. "I mean she even got in the car herself, shut her own door, it happened that quick. We were three minutes away from the ER." 

Reese went into anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis causes the immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause the body to go into shock. Blood pressure drops suddenly and the airways narrow, blocking breathing. Signs and symptoms include a rapid, weak pulse; a skin rash; and nausea and vomiting. 

"They rushed her right back and tried to get a pulse," Langer said. "She was in a coma for four days, but we later found out there was just no brain activity."   

Reese's death is still so painful for her family. Everyone who knew Reese, knew about her allergies. The dessert that Reese ate at the catered banquet seemed harmless, but it wasn't.   

"I just want to make sure that this doesn't happen to anyone else." Langer said. "I just want people to understand the seriousness of food allergies. This is serious, life threatening, and it's scary." 

Soon after Reese's death, Langer started a foundation. A nonprofit to honor her daughter's memory. 

"The foundation is called Reese Strong," Langer said. "When Reese was in a coma all of her cheerleader friends came up with a hashtag that they spread everywhere, Reese Strong. It stuck, and in the beginning I thought it was to be strong for Reese, to keep her in our prayers, and will strength to her. In the end it was much more than that."

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The very first event for the Reese Strong Foundation was held in September 2021. The Run for Reese's goal was to spread food allergy awareness. 

"The first fun run was at her middle school," Langer said. "It seemed fitting to have it there. It was mostly her friends and the cheerleaders, but we were surprised to see how many community members came out to it." 

The foundation also organizes a yearly golf tournament fundraiser.

"We're raising awareness, educating others, and eventually we will be helping with financial assistance for epi-pens," Langer said. 

This week, May 8-14, is National Food Allergy Awareness Week. Langer found out Idaho was one of the few states that didn't recognize this special week, she decided to push for change.  

"We sent a request off to the governor's office and we brought it to his attention," Langer said.

Governor Brad Little heard about Reese's story and took action, honoring her memory with an official proclamation. Idaho will now recognize Food Allergy Awareness Week.

Credit: Heather Langer
Heather Langer pushed for Idaho to recognize National Food Allergy Awareness Week. They sent a request to Governor Brad Little. He heard about Reese's story, and officially proclaimed May 8-14, Food Allergy Awareness Week in Idaho.

Langer is still struggling with the loss of Reese on a daily basis, but, somehow running the foundation makes her feel like she is doing something to stop the preventable deaths of those with severe food allergies. One thing Langer stresses, is the importance of using an epi-pen as soon as possible after a reaction. The rule is epi-first, epi-fast. Minutes do count.   

This loving mom says she will keep sharing her daughter's story wherever she goes to spread awareness.   

"Everyone grieves differently, for me talking about it helps, sharing memories helps, going to the cemetery everyday helps." Langer said. 

In the coming days, Langer is working on getting educational flyers into schools. This weekend, the second annual Run for Reese will be held. It's on Saturday, May 14th at Eagle Middle School. It starts at 10 a.m., and everyone is invited.

To learn more about the Reese Strong Foundation, click HERE.

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