Alvin Ailey community mourns dancer who died after eating mislabeled cookies from Stew Leonard's

ByReagan Medgie WABC logo
Friday, January 26, 2024
More details emerge after cookie allergy death of woman in CT
Raegan Medgie has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A 25-year-old professional dancer who tragically died from an allergic reaction to a cookie that contained peanuts as an unlisted ingredient, is being remembered by her family and the dance community that she was a part of.

Orla Baxendale, a well-known dancer in New York City, died on January 11 following an allergic reaction to the cookie sold by Stew Leonard's in Connecticut.

"For someone to leave us so young and so soon at the height of career is a tragedy," said Guillermo Asca, Orla Baxendale's dance instructor at the Ailey School of Dance. "She was vibrant, dynamic, kooky, someone who didn't take herself seriously but took work seriously," Asca said.

In 2018, Baxendale, who had been studying Irish step dancing in the U.K., was awarded a scholarship to study dance at the prestigious Alvin Ailey School.

She trained for two years with Guillermo and others to pursue her career in dance, eventually making it to Momix, a dance company based in Connecticut.

"You see talent. You want to nurture, give that student the most opportunity they have to make it. That's a success for us," Asca said.

But two weeks ago, tragedy struck. Baxendale, who is severely allergic to peanuts, was with her two friends at a rental home in Connecticut while touring for a show.

Vanilla Florentine cookies manufactured by Cookies United on Long Island and repackaged by Stew Leonard's were sitting on the counter, but the label was missing a warning that the cookies contained peanuts.

According to Baxendale's family attorney, the young dancer took a bite, assuming the cookies were safe, had a reaction and later died.

Her friends rushed her to the hospital and used her EpiPen, but it was too late.

"With one simple sticker on a plastic package, their daughter would be alive," attorney Marijo Adimey said.

Baxendale's family is now taking legal action.

"They're too distraught to speak. They want this story out so it doesn't happen again," attorney Marijo Adimey said.

The family wasn't the only ones that felt the impact of the dancer's loss.

"For the Ailey community it was devastating," Asca said.

The Ailey School released a statement following Baxendale's passing:

"The Ailey School is deeply saddened by the untimely passing of alumna Órla Baxendale. Órla was born and raised in Manchester U.K. and moved to New York in 2018 to join the Ailey family as a Scholarship student. Since then, she had become an integral part of the New York dance world, pursuing her passion, shining her bright light, and doing what she loved most. She danced with numerous companies and choreographers, most recently as a member of MOMIX. Her loss will be profoundly felt by her friends, colleagues, and all who knew her. We will remember her for her joyful spirit and boundless talent. Our thoughts are with her family at this devastating time. Rest in peace, dear Órla."

The attorney says, this case demonstrates why proper packaging and labeling should be state and federally mandated.

Stew Leonard issued a recall for the Vanilla Florentine, which roughly 500 packs were sold at stores in Danbury and Newington, Connecticut, and then expanded the recall to include Chocolate Florentine cookies, which contained undeclared peanuts and eggs.


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