3-year-old boy with dairy allergy dies from eating grilled cheese at school, family says

NEW YORK — A 3-year-old boy died last week after having a severe allergic reaction at his Manhattan preschool, his family said. The boy, Elijah Silvera, was allergic to dairy and had been given a grilled cheese sandwich.

Elijah was a student at the Seventh Avenue Center for Family Services in Harlem, a program overseen by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and the Health Department. The Health Department said it has closed the school on Wednesday for inadequate supervision of a child and for failing to follow its own written safety plan.

The site also houses a universal prekindergarten program, part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to provide free prekindergarten to all New York City 4-year-olds, but Elijah was not a UPK student.


A GoFundMe page set up this week up by a family friend said that on Nov. 3, Elijah “was given a grilled cheese sandwich by an adult at the pre-K, despite them knowing and having documented that he has a severe allergy to dairy. Elijah went into anaphylactic shock and was taken to the Pediatric ER at Harlem Hospital, where, tragically, they were unable to save him.”

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A spokesman for the Fire Department said that no FDNY ambulances were called to that pre-K center on Friday. Ruben Porras, a cousin of Elijah’s father, said the school did not call an ambulance but called the boy’s mother instead. She the took him to the hospital.

Christopher R. Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a statement, “There is nothing more important than the safety of our children and we are deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will get to the bottom of what happened here. In the meantime, we closed the Center for Family Services and are continuing to aggressively investigate what happened and whether the facility could have done something differently to prevent this tragedy.”

Miller said there was a safety plan in place for Elijah at the Center, but he declined to say whether there was an EpiPen on site that could have treated the boy’s symptoms, citing the ongoing investigation.

On Thursday, Lorelei A. Vargas, a deputy commissioner at the Administration for Children’s Services, visited the preschool, a brick building with “Pre-K For All” signs in its windows and a brightly colored mural out front, splashed with the words “fun,” “read,” and “friends.”


“There were no red flags at the center,” Vargas said. “We do believe that this was an isolated incident.”

The GoFundMe page said that in addition to memorial expenses, the family was raising money for counseling for Elijah’s brother, Sebastian, 5, and to pay for a second, independent autopsy because “it is unclear where responsibility for Elijah’s death will fall between the pre-K and the hospital itself.”

The page continued: “We dread the upcoming holiday season without our little boy. We are lost.”