A story of tragedy for one local family has turned into a chance to save many lives.
In 2016, 11-year-old West Palm Beach resident Oakley Debbs and his family celebrated Thanksgiving in Maine.
During that trip, he ate cake that contained almond extract, unbeknownst to the child and his family.
Oakley, who was allergic to nuts, soon became unconscious and unresponsive, and died three days later, on December 3, 2016.
Soon after his death, Oakley’s family started a nonprofit organization called “Red Sneakers for Oakley,” after his favorite shoes and color. The family’s goal is to make people locally and globally more aware of food allergies and how deadly they can be.
Oakley’s father, Robert, says, “That’s our mission: to go out and make sure everyone is aware of that.”
The family has received letters thanking them for the education and for playing a key role in saving their children. One letter reads, “Love and gratitude to the Debbs family and sweet Oakley. You are saving lives.”
Oakley’s mother, Merrill, says, “As long as we keep getting those testimonials, it’s incentive to keep going. It’s inspiring.”
Robert Merrill adds, “In the bottom of my heart, I feel my son is up there really directing us to try to save lives.”