Youth Action For Allergy promotional material featuring James Tsindos and Max McKenzie

Schools across Melbourne have united to raise awareness about allergies in honour of two students who died following an allergic reaction.

Max McKenzie, 15, of Camberwell Grammar School (CGS) and James Tsindos, 17, of Brighton Grammar School (BGS), haven’t been forgotten by their classmates after passing away in 2021. To remember their peers and shine a light on allergic disease, nine schools have come together to take part in Food Allergy Week from May 21-27.

Youth Action for Allergy activities, including Live to the Max day at CGS and Jam for James day at BGS, will also raise vital funds for allergy research. Max was an active adolescent with a passion for debating and kayaking and James a talented pianist and musical theatre performer.

Max’s friends, Tommy Auwardt, who has a food allergy, Raphael Championand Nathan Bosmans of CGS, said their greatest hope was that through the spread of information about the dangers of anaphylaxis, a situation as devastating as what happened to Max could be avoided.

“Research shows one student in every classroom has a food allergy and it’s incredibly inspiring to see schools talking more about allergies and how to keep each other safe,” they said.

Around one in 20 10- to 14-year-old school students in Melbourne have a food allergy, and the most common triggers are peanut and tree nut.

Money raised from the schools’ allergy awareness activities will be donated to the National Allergy Centre of Excellence (NACE) – Australia’s peak allergy research body hosted by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Professor Kirsten Perrett, NACE Director, paediatric allergist and co-author of the Allergy Friendly Family Cookbook, said five million Australians live with allergies, making us the allergy capital of world.

“So many families of school aged students are navigating life with allergic diseases,” she said. Together, with these incredible school communities, the McKenzie and Tsindos families have become a voice for Max and James. They are raising awareness about allergies and the need to advance research to find new ways to prevent and treat these diseases early so that, one day, every student can go to school allergy-free.”

Since launching in August 2022, the NACE has united experts in drug, food, insect and respiratory allergic disease to help build the tools and resources needed to accelerate allergy research.

Max’s parents, Ben and Tamara McKenzie, welcomed the community support to help protect and save the lives of young people who have allergies.

No family should ever have to face their child not waking up in intensive care, from allergies, ever again,” said Ben, an emergency physician and NACE PhD Scholarship recipient. “Research and bringing change through science has the potential to achieve the greatest impact at both a national and global level.”

The circumstances surrounding the deaths of Max and James are under investigation by the coroner.

Schools participating in Youth Action for Allergy include Brighton Grammar School, Camberwell Grammar School, Camberwell Girls Grammar School, Camberwell Primary School, Carey Baptist Grammar School, Fairfield Primary School, Kilvington Grammar School, Methodist Ladies' College, Presbyterian Ladies’ College. The schools hosted a variety of activities, such as allergy awareness assemblies, musical performances, casual dress days, sausage sizzles and market stalls.

Read more on the NACE website