09/08/2014 12:49 EDT | Updated 11/08/2014 05:59 EST

Hamilton a pioneer with project to get EpiPens into malls

Hamilton took a step toward its "massive goal" of being “the epicenter of addressing food allergies” Monday when it launched a unique new program that will see mall guards carrying EpiPens.

Guards in Jackson Square, in the city’s centre, will carry the EpiPen brand of epinephrine autoinjector on their belts for when people go into anaphylactic shock. The goal, organizers say, is for the project to expand to all of Hamilton’s 1,500 restaurants, and eventually around the world.

Anaphylaxis Canada trained the mall guards, who carry child and adult doses. The city provided the EpiPens, and McMaster University will study the effectiveness of the one-year pilot project. If it works, it’ll spread through the whole city.

“The goal is to make Hamilton the epicenter when it comes to food allergies,” said Frank Stechey of the Rotary Club of Ancaster AM, which thought up the project.

If other areas follow Hamilton’s motto, he said, “we could save children’s lives worldwide.”

The project would cost an estimated $100,000 to roll out to all Hamilton food establishments. It was initiated after 12-year-old Maia Santarelli-Gallo of Stoney Creek collapsed and died in a Burlington mall in 2013.

The launch was “very emotional,” said Leah Gallo, Maia’s mother. Her father and older sister were also at the launch.

Maia was shopping with her dad Vincent and her sister during March break when she ate some ice cream in the food court. She’d been diagnosed with a “mild allergy” to dairy, but could eat certain dairy products, Leah said.

Someone in the food court had an epinephrine autoinjector and they used it on Maia, Leah Gallo said. No one is sure why it wasn’t enough to save her life.

As for whether Hamilton’s project would have saved her, “I don’t pay attention to questions like that,” she said. “I can’t answer that. “What happened, happened. The only thing we can do is prevent it from happening again.”

Hamilton’s aim to put the autoinjectors in every food establishment is “a massive goal,” said Marilyn Allen of Anaphylaxis Canada. But she says it’s possible.