Late Summer Vacation

Planning: something that I have become an expert in ever since Food Allergies entered our lives. You see, my husband and I loved being spontaneous. We liked taking road trips without a destination, we would get on airplanes to fun places if we felt we needed fun in our lives. This didn’t change when our first child was born, but it did when Food Allergies sneaked into our lives in 2013. It takes so much planning and organizing when someone in your family has food allergies: so many medications to carry with you in case of an allergic reaction, wipes to clean any allergen contaminated areas, and for us, a bag full of safe food in case my daughter can’t be accommodated in restaurants (or if I don’t trust that restaurant).

For about two years now, we have been working with a fantastic allergist that has introduced us to Oral Immunotherapy, and Oral Food Challenges. Since then, Penny has been able to tolerate dairy in baked goods, and can now eat some tree nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans. Which has given us, as a family, a little bit more confidence regarding food allergies.

Long story short, the weekend before labor day we were brainstorming ideas on what to do for Labor Day Weekend. Not only was it a holiday, but it marked the end of summer and my husband’s birthday. We ended up going to the place that a lot of allergy families love because of their fantastic accommodations: Disneyland. This time we also added Universal Studios: Hollywood to our schedule. So, here I am, sharing with you some of our dining experiences at our end of summer vacation trip. Keep in mind that on this trip, my daughter avoided dairy, peanuts & gluten, and my son avoided dairy and gluten.

Disneyland

We chose to book our flights with Jetblue, they do not serve peanuts on board and they are very accommodating. They announced on both flights that there was a passenger with a peanut allergy and asked a row in front of us and a row behind us to please refrain from eating any types of nuts. We were also able to preboard to wipe down our seats. For us, this is an important thing because a couple of years ago, we were flying (with another airline) to visit some family members and Penny had a reaction in flight. We were lucky her reaction was not anaphylactic, nonetheless, it was a scary situation. Since then, we’ve tried to find airlines that do not serve peanuts, and we take the necessary precautions. Both flights were successful, Penny had no reactions, and she was even able to eat the Blue Chips that they offer in flights.  

We seem to be creatures of habit, which on this trip meant that every day, both my children, chose the same breakfast food, but in different restaurants. My daughter had gluten free, dairy free and peanut free Mickey waffles, one sausage and one slice of bacon. My son had gluten free, dairy free and peanut free Mickey waffles, bacon and a side of scrambled eggs. Yes, EVERY DAY. We were able to find this option at Carnation Cafe and Steakhouse 55. You might be able to find it at different restaurants, but we were comfortable with these 2 restaurants, so we kept returning to both of these.

I usually carry a lot of snacks with us everywhere we go. This time was not the exception. I mean, not only did I carry snacks (cookies, crackers, chips, etc), but I also carried bread, almond butter, and jelly to make sandwiches in case we aren’t able to be accommodated at a restaurant. However, we were able to find different safe snacks at the Disneyland Parks. My kids loved snacking on the dried apple crisps, fresh fruits, minute maid frozen lemonades, and Dole Whip. It never ceases to amaze me how we are always able to find safe snacks without a problem.

From previous experiences and the information found online, I learned that “sit-down” restaurants are usually more accommodating. One of our favorite restaurants, for some time now, is Carthay Circle Restaurant. There, the kids were able to enjoy delicious, freshly made gluten-free bread. Penny ordered the Grilled Petite Filet of Beef. We substituted the whipped potatoes, which contained dairy, with tomatoes. Paulo had the same dish but instead substituted the whipped potatoes with rice. On another occasion at this restaurant, kids had the beef with white rice and green beans. They were also able to enjoy a mango sorbet. 

Carthay Circle Desert

Another restaurant that we enjoyed was the Orleans Cafe. In this restaurant, the Chef came to talk to us about the allergies and the menu. She told us that she was OK changing anything on the menu because she wanted Penny to be happy. There, my kids enjoyed grilled chicken, white rice, tomatoes, broccolini and a side of grapes. 

Orleans cafe lunch

Lunch at Carnation Café made me kind of nervous because their lunch menu seemed to accommodate either the peanut/tree nut allergy or the dairy allergy, but not both together in 1 dish. We spoke to our server and they were able to make Hamburgers on a gluten free and dairy free bun with broccoli and fruits. However, the kids were not able to eat fries at this restaurant due to the risk of cross-contamination. 

Carnation Lunch

   At Steakhouse 55 Restaurant we informed the server about the allergies, and the server went and got the chef, who came out to our table and told us that he could make any of the dishes in the menu safe for my kids. This was a first. Usually, servers and chefs guide us through the menu letting us know what is safe for our kids and what isn’t. This time was completely different, he said that he would actually make ANYTHING that they wanted and that it’ll be safe because he would make it in separate clean pans. Both my kids ordered grilled chicken, white rice, veggies, and fries. Told you we are creatures of habit and there’s not a lot of variety in their dishes. 

Teakhouse 55 DInner

   Universal Studios was a completely different story. I had done my research online, and seeing the different experiences that people have had, I was not comfortable buying food at the park for Penny. We arrived later in the day, so the kids had already eaten their allergy friendly Mickey waffles. I brought with us Almond butter and Jelly sandwiches, chips, and cookies. I saw a lot of foods containing dairy in the park, which didn’t make me too comfortable, and to be honest I was not thrilled by the idea of risking a reaction when we were having such a fun and relaxing vacation. Maybe when we visit again, I will be able to look for an accommodating option for us. This time, I stayed within my comfort zone.

   Last but not least, it is important to know that we carried with us on this trip EpiPens, antihistamines, and the necessary medication needed if there was an allergic reaction. For food-allergic families like ours, a small getaway like this one, in which you are also able to eat out without a worry means so much. Usually, most of our dishes are cooked at home, in our safe bubble. Therefore, being able to enjoy a vacation without having to worry too much about the food is priceless, and seeing your child feeling included and safe at restaurants means the world to us.  

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This post was not sponsored by any of the companies and/or products mentioned above. I am expressing my own opinion and sharing our experience.

***DISCLAIMER: THE TEAL INGREDIENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. ANY INFORMATION POSTED ON THIS BLOG IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE ANY MEDICAL INSTRUCTION OR ADVICE. I AM A PARENT SHARING MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, OPINION, AND SUPPORT. IF YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEDICAL CONCERNS, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.
IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, AS A CONSUMER, TO READ LABELS AND VERIFY THE SAFETY OF THE PRODUCTS MENTIONED ABOVE AS ANY PRODUCTS MENTIONED IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE REGARDING INGREDIENTS OR MANUFACTURING PROCESSES AND PRACTICES.***

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Good News

Ever since Penny switched allergists our whole experience has been different. Obviously, different doctor, different experience. Yes, but it has changed our perspective from what seemed like a situation into a journey. A journey which has been beneficial not only for Penny but for the whole family. We have all grown with more understanding, empathy, precaution, and a completely different point of view about food allergies.

Reading through the blog, the experiences we’ve been through as a family and how I have reacted to Penny’s diagnosis and allergic reactions, I’ve felt a shift in perspective. My initial reaction to Penny’s diagnosis was negative, one of complete fear and isolation. As I state in Our Story: “Penny’s diagnosis changed our world. At first, it was overwhelming because we had no idea what having food allergies really meant and we didn’t know how to handle them. What can she eat now? Dairy, peanuts and tree nuts seemed to be ingredients found in almost every food that we eat. Reading labels became everything […]” Not to say that I do not experience fear every time we go to the doctor’s office for a food challenge, or get anxious every time we have a test coming up, but now we see Food Allergies in a new, refreshing way. I know that we can be resilient, but I also have to acknowledge that Penny’s doctor has been a key component of this new attitude towards Food Allergies. He’s been very good with educating us more on the subject and giving us reassurance about safety.

A few weeks ago, it was time for allergy testing. Oooh! What an exciting and scary time! You know, it is either good news- she’s outgrowing her allergies or not so good news- her allergies are the same or worse. We got to the doctor’s office, and after having been examined for her asthma and everything else (height, weight, changes in health, etc), it was “test time”. She was tested for the current allergies and a few more that we were worried about because of family allergy history. This time it was great news. It seems like she has outgrown most of the nut allergies and she is no longer allergic to dog or cat dander. Also, the dairy allergy has improved. Hooray for Oral Immunotherapy! Unbelievable: Her multiple allergies have been reduced to only 2 foods: peanuts and dairy!

I have to say that it is a pretty neat feeling. Knowing that your child is safe around foods that were previously like poison to her. It has also been very exciting for Penny. She has been letting everyone know that she possibly might not be allergic to nuts! So, what’s next you might ask? A cashew challenge. The doctor wants to introduce tree nuts in the office, just to be safe.  Like I said, I always get nervous when it comes to food challenges, but I trust my daughter’s allergist. Penny? She’s very excited about the challenge- she’s even counting the days.

Sometimes these curveballs that life throws at you end up being such a gem. You learn, you grow, and you find peace within yourself. There’s nothing harder than swimming against the current. After accepting the reality of being a Food-Allergic Family, I can acknowledge that whole experience has been an incredible, enriching and learning one.  

Hollows Eve

Halloween… one of the words I dread the most. Why? Think about it; Halloween means one thing: CANDY. What are the most common ingredients found in these treats? Top 8 allergens. When we go out on this day, all I see around is just a potential allergic reaction.

Before Penny was diagnosed with food allergies we used to go trick or treating, but after she got the diagnosis, we felt it was too much of a risk, and decided to avoid it the years that followed. Not wanting to exclude the kids from having fun we started a new Halloween tradition, painting our pumpkins teal, getting our costumes on, and offering non-food treats to people. This year things changed: Penny is older and now understands what Halloween is, she talks about it with her friends and we felt like she wanted to be more involved, so we thought we should give it another chance.

The day started pretty excitingly. Fairy Princess costume on, breakfast, and off to school for a small Halloween bash. Like most of you know, Penny’s school is pretty accommodating when it comes to her food allergies. For the event held at her school, people brought treats and party foods to share with everyone. Even though there weren’t any peanuts or tree nuts, there was plenty of dairy around. The day was going O.K., but at a certain point a rash started to appear in Penny’s hands and face, and before her reaction got worse, my husband picked her up from school. He cleaned her hands and face really well, and the rash eventually disappeared. In the evening, I took the children trick or treating to some neighbors houses whom I had already given non-food items to offer to them, and it was a happy end to our day.

Even though our day was a successful one, it was stressful. Are we going trick or treating next year? I am not sure; maybe we’ll go back to passing non-food treats and raising Food Allergy awareness. Am I overreacting? Perhaps. It might be that I am overwhelmed because one of our family members went into anaphylactic shock less than a week ago and is fighting for his life. Maybe I seem like I am being overly cautious, but there’s one thing I would like you to understand: my children’s allergies, intolerances, or disorders are not their choice; it’s something they have to live with. Let’s create awareness; let’s cultivate empathy in our family members. Judging only clouds our thinking, if we try to walk a mile in other’s people shoes we contribute to a better society.

 

 

Four Years Ago

It’s almost the four-year anniversary of Penny’s food allergy diagnosis. We’ve come a long way ever since, and there’s so much more that we need to learn. At that time, when her doctor said the words, “Penny is allergic to dairy, peanuts and tree nuts”, I was filled with mixed emotions. Happy because we finally had a name for those unexplainable hives that would appear on and off during the past 5-6 months, but at the same time it felt like a “life sentence”. It felt like our lives were turned upside down.

Choosing things to eat without her allergens was hard, going to gatherings, birthday parties and play dates seemed impossible, and to be honest it is still hard sometimes. Even choosing a school for Penny to attend, where her allergies are taken seriously, was a struggle. Things got harder last year when my husband had to do an unaccompanied Army one-year, overseas tour. Penny was sick a lot that year. From the moment my husband left, she started getting ear infections. Of course, her allergies to antibiotics made things harder. Then after recurrent ear infections (one each month for 6 months), she was referred to an ENT, and the Dr. decided that she had to undergo surgery to place tubes in her ears and also remove her adenoids and tonsils.

I am so lucky to have friends that go above and beyond for my children and me. So, when the decision was made that Penny was to have the surgery, my best friend (Sonia) offered to fly into town and be here with us through Penny’s recovery. The day of the surgery, I was a nervous wreck. Since Penny has not only food allergies, but also allergy to medications, I was so scared how her body was going to react to anesthesia. Thankfully, surgery was a success, and Penny didn’t have to stay at the hospital that night. Although Penny recovered pretty fast from surgery, she did have some complications. A week after surgery, her lungs started accumulating liquid, but eventually (with treatment), she pulled through. Sonia stayed with us for 3 weeks, making it possible for me to go to work while helping to take care of Penny & Paulo. I am forever grateful for Sonia’s help.

These past four years have taught us to read labels, eat healthier, cook and bake at home, create awareness, educate people, deal with uncertainty and more, but overall we’ve learned to see life differently, to live with empathy, and to think about the everyday struggles of others. We’ve received so much love and consideration from family, friends, and even strangers. Food Allergies are hard, but the hidden gems it brings are far more valuable. We’ve met great people, and we’re part of a beautiful community that looks out for each other. Can’t wait to see what else this incredible journey has for us.

Challenge Accepted

A few months ago Penny had an appointment scheduled for a cheese challenge. After having experienced a mild contact-reaction to cheese in her school, I decided that the Cheese Challenge was off the table (for now!). However, Penny’s allergist wanted to see her to follow-up on that reaction. At that appointment, Penny had a penicillin challenge instead.

When she was only one year old, Penny had to take penicillin for a bacterial infection. Twelve hours after the first dose, her little fingers and toes started swelling. That swelling later spread to the arms and legs. She was immediately taken off the penicillin and treated for the allergic reaction. Since then, different kinds of antibiotics have had to take care of her recurrent ear infections.

That day, 3.5 years after, her doctor decided that it was time to see if she had already outgrown the penicillin allergy. First, the nurse administered a small amount of the penicillin in her skin with a needle. If her skin turned red, itchy or raised bump, that would mean that she was still allergic to penicillin. Penny passed! Then, the doctor gave her a dose of penicillin to confirm that in fact, the skin reaction was really negative. Again, Penny passed with flying colors!

This is an exciting new step in our lives. Fewer allergies, less worry, more happiness.

What’s next? An almond challenge! Stay tuned, I will keep you posted.