Life with food allergies

This morning I flipped on my computer to the discover the latest moment of internet outrage.  The Yahoo/Babble headline screamed “2-Year Old Suspended from Daycare over Cheese Sandwich.” Below the article a lengthy list of comments began with phrases like “When I was a kid, no-one had food allergies….” and “It’s just a sandwich.”

On the one hand, the school rules seem a bit extreme, allowing no outside food. I say this because I’m used to providing outside food for my child. The practice has been one of the easiest ways for me to keep her safe in a world where food can be lethal.

I wish some of the people calling out the absurdity of the policy and wondering why everyone has to suffer for the right of one person could spend a day in the place of a parent with a food allergy.  When my daughter was younger, we had to avoid three groups of allergens. Now, we are down to peanuts and tree nuts. My trips to the grocery store are longer. With produce, I have to consider where and how nuts are stored and if they are likely to contaminate produce one typically doesn’t peel.  I have to read the ingredient lists carefully and decide whether the brand is trustworthy in their description of “processed in a shared facility using good manufacturing practices.”   I wonder what their cart would look like if they did their normal shopping and then at the checkout line were asked to sort out products that cause an anaphylactic reaction.

Maybe, just maybe, if everyone did that, I wouldn’t be subjected to moans and groans when the flight attendant announces “This will be a peanut free flight” or the hateful looks from another parent when I ask if their child could please keep their peanut butter sandwich on the picnic table rather than smearing the contents all over the slide at the playground. Maybe more people would offer financial support to researching why food allergies are on the rise and what can be done to halt this epidemic. Maybe we could all enjoy a world where food doesn’t kill.

If you wish to make a change, consider a donation to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Wouldn’t it be nice if no child were suspended for a sandwich? And nicer still if no one died from one?

End rant. Stepping off my soap box.


A fear of death

Recently in Virginia a first grader named Ammaria died after suffering anaphylactic shock.  We may never know the precise details, but the gist of the story is this: Ammaria came in contact with peanuts at recess. She fell ill and was rushed to the school clinic. Someone called 911 but when help arrived, it was too late.  Her life could have been saved if she’d been administered an Epi-Pen.

The night I learned of Ammaria’s death, I tended to my daughter’s hives for the fourth time in three days. I dutifully recorded every thing she ate, drank and played with trying to pinpoint where she may have encountered the peanuts most likely responsible for her reaction.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing she had life saving medicine at school in case the worst happened. Then she told me she first noticed the hives at school.

I reeled on her. I know she heard the panic in my voice. Her eyes grew wide and fearful as I bombarded her with questions, demanding to know if she told an adult and why she hadn’t. I couldn’t believe it.  My daughter, the one who reads labels, refuses to eat anything if she isn’t sure of the ingredient list and tells adults and children in the area that she can’t be near peanuts, also is the one who didn’t speak up because she didn’t want to bother anyone.

My daughter’s hesitation to speak up could bring about her death.

This is the reality of parenting a child with food allergies.  It’s not just a peanut butter sandwich that could kill her, but also a fear of being a nuisance or forgetting an epi-pen, or an entrenched system of laws that prevent a child from receiving life saving medicine.

Here’s the thing. If Ammaria’s school is anything like my daughter’s, there was a drawer full of epi-pens in the nurses office that will be thrown away, unused, at the end of the school year. Any one of those epi-pens that will become trash could have saved Ammaria’s life, but they were prescribed to someone else.  Laws prevented the school from giving her life saving medicine.  If she lived in my school district, Ammaria would most likely be alive today because local law requires Chesapeake Public Schools to keep two doses of unprescribed epinephrine on site.

If Congress gets its act together, we can make sure all children have access to this life saving medicine, at least during the school day.  S. 1884, also known as the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, would require schools to stock this medicine. The cost per school is minimal, but could save lives of children and staff. Remember, epinephrine helps not just those with a reaction to peanuts, but also deadly bee stings and more.   You can learn more through FAAN’s website.  We require defibrillators, why not epinephrine?

Until this law passes, I’ll keep my daughter’s epi-pens handy. And if I see your child in the throes of an anaphylactic fit, I’ll use my pen to save his or her life.  But please, promise not to sue me.