Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Our Allergy Story

I had always been vaguely aware of the potential fatal factor of food allergies. Growing up I had a cousin who was allergic to peanuts (he was one of the small percentage that outgrow them) and when we ran the youth group at our church I made it a policy that peanuts would not be allowed in the snack pool. I was trained in how to use an Epi-pen when we got our CPR certification and had a rough idea of what to look for in an anaphalactic reaction. 

When I became pregnant with our son, we prayed that he would not be allergic to any foods.
Will turned one and we began to introduce the various allergens that he hadn't been previously exposed to. For the first few months, he didn't seem to have any reactions; he loved eggs, he loved things with almonds in them, seemed to like fish, and never seemed to have any issues with milk, wheat, or soy. 

Whenever we gave him a peanut product of any kind, however, he turned his nose up at it. He didn't have a reaction that we could see, so we kept exposing him to peanut products in the hopes that we would avoid the allergic reaction. 

Will at 16 months - roughly when he was diagnosed with food allergies. 
Early that September, my teething toddler did not want to eat anything for breakfast. I tried all his favorites - eggs, oatmeal, raisin bran - nothing was capturing his interest. In a last-ditch effort, I made him a piece of toast with a very thin layer of peanut butter and jelly on it. 

He took a bite and then rubbed his eyes and face. Within seconds and before swallowing, he had three hives on the side of his face, a runny nose, and his eyes were getting puffy.

I reacted quickly because I knew what could potentially come next. I swept the toast out of his mouth and took the rest of it out of his hands and off the high chair. I wiped his eyes, his tongue, his face, and his hands three times. It was a Saturday, so I placed a call to the pediatrician's paging service and woke up my husband while I waited for the call-back as to what we should do. 

When we got the call, we were advised to give him a half-teaspoon of Benedryl and monitor him closely to make sure there would continue to be no issues breathing. Of course we had no Benedryl in the house because at less than 18 months, I didn't think Will was old enough or big enough to be able to take any yet. I drove as fast as I could to the pharmacy while Steve sat with Will and the phone on stand-by to call 911 if he needed to.

By the time I got back with the Benedryl, the reaction had mostly passed and was limited to just a runny nose. I gave him the dosage and waited with my husband to watch and make sure that our son, our small baby boy, was all right. 

That Monday we brought him in to see our pediatrician who advised that we should wait a couple of weeks and then introduce to peanut butter again in a small amount to see if there was a reaction. At that point, he said, we would pursue an allergist. This was an answer that didn't seem right to us, so we made an appointment with an allergist that came highly recommended to us while we waited and continued to avoid peanut products. 

A prick test showed that our little Will is allergic to peanuts and walnuts. We went home with a prescription for an Epi-pen Junior and an allergy action plan. 

Panera with peanut & treenut allergies? Tough one with a little one...
I'm a lover of peanut butter and walnuts. 

I was sad as I threw away jars of peanut butter and bags of walnuts. I silently mourned at the ice cream stand when I couldn't order maple walnut ice cream and got jealous the first time my husband came home and stripped in the basement to wash his clothes because he'd had a peanut butter cookie at work. I stomped my feet internally when we realized we couldn't go to our favorite sandwich shop anymore because they had maple walnut scones in the wide open on their sample table. That first Christmas when the Reeses peanut butter trees came out and I couldn't have my annual indulgence because Will was always with me. 

Then one day, my heart changed. Because really, when you realize that these seemingly harmless foods could mean potential death to your child - it has to.

I realized that I could become an advocate for my son and for others with potentially fatal food allergies. I could use my influence with our family and friends to raise awareness of what it's like to manage food allergies and how they could help keep my son and others like him safe. 

15 million Americans manage and live with food allergies. I say "manage and live with" and not "suffer" because anyone who knows Will knows he is far from a suffering child. In fact, everyone I've ever met with a food allergy is not exactly someone that I would say is "suffering". They live happy lives, they play, they laugh, they enjoy lots and lots of different and delicious foods. 

It is a scary reality that food allergic people and their caretakers live with, however, that a bite of the wrong food could close their throat, constrict their breathing, and send them to the emergency room in an ambulance - something that happens every 6 minutes in the US. It makes beach outings, dinners out, birthday parties, playgrounds - all things that are normal - a nerve-wracking experience sometimes. 

Growing up and learning how to manage his allergy.
He always reminds me "Mom, no peanuts or treenuts!" when we go out to eat.

I have become the mom that asks the other moms to make sure their kids don't have peanut butter sandwiches at playdates.

I have become the mom that carries an Epi-pen everywhere - even when I have the non-allergic child - just incase. 

I have become the mom that dives at other people's kids at playgrounds when they eat a granola bar and come near my son. 

I have become the mom that prays for treatment that can desensitize people from food allergies. 

I have become the mom that writes blogs to help raise awareness of what it's like to live with food allergies and how others can be a support and a help.

And there are, by the way, simple things that you can do to help those with food allergies.

Does your kid have a peanut butter for snack or lunch at the playground? Make sure they sit still while they eat it. Wipe their hands and face thoroughly before releasing them to play again, and wipe down the table where they were sitting. 

Does your kid go to school or daycare? Help them understand the importance of hand washing. Help them to understand the importance of staying in one spot while they have their lunch to make sure that allergens don't spread. Make sure the teachers are creating an environment that's safe for everyone - even if your child doesn't have food allergies themselves. 

Help to raise awareness by sharing blog posts like this one or other posts about food allergies. Talk to moms of kids with food allergies to learn what it's like and how you can help. 

Learn how to use an Epi-pen incase a friend's child has a reaction while they have stepped away to the bathroom or to care for another child.

Protect your own allergic children by working to educate them, make sure you bring safe foods with you everywhere you go, and become their strongest advocate.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I say it takes a village to protect them as well. Learn what you can about food allergies and become a part of the village.

Other posts I've written about food allergies include...

Will's First Made Up Super-Hero - A story about when Will protected me from peanuts & treenuts

Cookie Recipe - A recipe for "I Can't Believe It's Not Peanut Butter" cookies; they use sunbutter and are delicious!

Food Allergies & Walt Disney World - Our experience at Walt Disney World resort dealing with food allergies. A MUST READ if you or someone you know with allergies are heading to Disney!

Allergy Party Guide for the Non-Allergy Crowd - How you can work to put together a party that will keep those with allergies safe. Includes helpful tips for buffet setting and how to keep little ones safe from potential allergens.

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