Support is Key

Two years have gone by since we learned that Penny has life-threatening food allergies. It has been all about learning and although difficult, because we’ve had to change our lifestyle, it has resulted in an enriching experience.

 

In the beginning, I made sure I had read all the information pamphlets that the allergist had provided. I searched online and visited food allergy online organizations that provide helpful resources and made sure that the people around me understood that Penny couldn’t eat dairy, peanuts or tree nuts.

 

When Penny had her 1st food allergy blood test, the results were not too high. Interestingly, the result for the dairy allergy was in the “safe zone”, meaning that she could’ve participated in an oral food challenge because it showed that the allergy was not severe. However, she had only experienced allergic reactions to dairy, and they were not pretty. On the other hand, the peanut allergy results indicated that an ingestion of peanut would mean a severe reaction; luckily she had never eaten peanuts.

 

A few months after Penny’s diagnosis, I decided that I was going back to work. I was blessed with a friend who offered to watch Penny while I worked. My friend, Yeshica, understood the severity of her allergies and was always cautious. I am happy to say that while Penny was in her care she didn’t experience a single reaction. In my opinion, it is people like her that make the world a better place. ☺ I was lucky to have found someone with great empathy and understanding that also gave me great support.

 

A year went by, it was time for Penny’s yearly check-up with her allergist. The blood work revealed that now both of her allergies were severe. The allergist told me that it was unnecessary to do a skin prick test- the blood work results were so high that it was obvious that the skin test was going to be positive. Also, it could cause her a severe reaction. This made me more anxious. I felt desperate, helpless, lost… At this point, Yeshica was not going to be able to watch Penny anymore while I worked and I looked for daycares with good food allergy policies without success. I wondered if I was being too picky, but I went with what my gut told me. I always put my kids before anything, so I decided to stay home in order to teach Penny what she can and cannot eat.

 

A couple months after, I had a doctor’s appointment. I enrolled Penny in an hourly care center for a couple hours. The center is a peanut free facility and knows about her allergies. After my appointment, Penny still had one more hour left before I had to pick her up, but I decided to pick her up early. When I got to the daycare center, she was scratching her eyes. I thought she was tired. Then all of a sudden she started sneezing. How strange! By the time we got to the car, she was covered in hives…When we got home, one of her eyes was swollen. I panicked! I thought: “In the daycare center they couldn’t have given her any of her allergens because she has a special diet and she even wears an allergy bracelet.” So, I proceeded to give her Benadryl and called the allergy clinic. Their staff instructed me to take her to the ER. I live literally 5 minutes from the hospital, which seemed like an hour. We got there, and thankfully the antihistamine had done its work. We were kept there for about 4 hours to make sure that no biphasic reaction ocurred and were later sent home. A biphasic anaphylactic reaction is when symptoms recur without the exposure to the allergen. It can happen within 1-72 hours. Thankfully, everything was fine! This experience confirmed that I had taken the right choice by staying home with Penny. Also, now I think back and ask myself if I made the right choice by giving her the antihistamine instead of the epinephrine… If this happens now, I would use the auto-injector- “when in doubt, use the Epi” is my new motto.

 

After this incident, it has become extremely difficult for me to leave Penny under the care of anybody else. Just the thought of leaving her at a daycare center or with anyone else gives me a lot of anxiety… This is when my husband suggested that I find a local Food Allergy Support Group. I searched everywhere without success. The closest one is, at least, an hour away. So, instead, I started this blog in hopes of creating awareness about food allergies. That same month, after a lot of reading and writing, it occurred to me to start a Support Group. Ahhhh, “necessity is the mother of invention”, isn’t it? So, I started asking organizations, clinics, patient advocacy, and pretty much everybody for help. Everyone seemed so excited about the idea, but nobody seemed to know in which direction to point or guide me. Finally, I thought to myself: “if there’s anyone that might want to help, it has to be someone from the allergy clinic.” I was right! The whole staff was very excited and started moving towards helping me create a support group.

 

Last week was our first Support Group meeting! An allergist and the head of the allergy clinic guided it. They talked about food allergies in general, explained what anaphylaxis is, what are the symptoms and what to do in case someone experiences anaphylaxis. They taught us how to use the EpiPen and the Auvi-Q auto-injectors, and answered questions. The next meetings are going to be guided by us, the patients, with the support of the allergist and his team. I am so happy to have finally found the right group of people to help us go through this process and to support each other in every step of the way. Like I’ve said before, in my opinion, Support is the Key when it comes to Food Allergies.

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