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.

 

 

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Of Friendship & Food Allergies: An Interview

When you or a family member is diagnosed with Food Allergies, it can be tough. It’s hard to figure out what to eat, you could feel alienated; it changes your whole life and your perspective on life. However, being a part of the Food Allergy Community is great. You make friends for life, you meet people that understand what you or your family member is going through, people care about you and your life because these people know and understand that it is no joke, these people understand that a little bit of an allergen can be fatal.

About a year ago, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Tania, and this reconnection happened because of Food Allergies. We have a friend in common that kept in touch with both of us, and this friend thought it would be a great idea that we both reconnect because Tania has food allergies and understands what my family goes through in our daily lives. You can never receive too much empathy, right? Thank you, Malena! Well, a few days ago I told Tania I wanted to know a little bit more about her allergies. Penny was diagnosed with food allergies when she was only a year old, so it was fairly easy for her to adjust to a new diet, and she will never miss some of her allergens because she has never even tried them, but Tania was diagnosed when she was a teenager, and things are different when you are older. I thought her story was interesting, and here I am sharing with you some of the questions I asked her and her response.

Let me give you a little bit of context. Tania is a 30-year-old hard-working mother of two, who currently lives in Puerto Rico.

Me: How old were you when you had your first allergic reaction, and, what did you react to?

Tania: “Ever since I was a little girl, I remember having eczema and unexplained hives, but no reactions to food. I remember that after being outside, playing in the sun, my skin would turn red and hives would appear- especially in my neck, armpits, elbows, and knees. My first allergic reaction: I was at the orthodontist, I was about 11-12 years old, and I reacted to the latex gloves that the doctor was wearing. They had to give me antihistamines, but everything turned out all right. The first reaction to food was about a year after that. I was at a fast food restaurant and I took a bite of my honey biscuit and immediately anaphylaxis set in. My throat was itchy, my face was itchy, and I was having trouble breathing. My dad had to rush me to the hospital, and this was my first experience with epinephrine. After getting a shot of epinephrine, and all the other medications they had given me, I was still showing symptoms of an allergic reaction, so I had to stay at the hospital for 3 days.

The culprit was honey. I know I had eaten honey before, when my grandma would make us tea, or when I ate honey biscuits, but had never reacted this way.

After several tests, I found out I was allergic to honey, soy, and latex (which I already knew). From that day on, we avoided honey and soy in our house. Curiously, the doctor didn’t prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector.”

Me: I know these are not the only allergies that you have. How did you find out about the other ones?

Tania: “I was about 17 years old, and it was new years. You know that there’s a tradition in which you eat 12 grapes after midnight for good luck? Well, I was in grape number eight when anaphylaxis started to set in. Again, my neck, head, and face started itching, and I started having trouble breathing. My mom gave me antihistamines and drove me to the nearest hospital.Now, after getting some more testing, I turned out to also be allergic grapes, prunes, and white chocolate. Again, no epinephrine auto-injector prescribed to me at this point.
My next reaction happened about six months after the grape reaction. I was sick; I had an infection and was at the hospital. They were going to give me antibiotics through an IV. The nurse started the antibiotic, and I started feeling an intense burning sensation through my veins. Soon enough, my whole body was covered in hives. The nurse ran to get the doctor, and in a matter of seconds, the nurse had taken the IV out of my arm. Due to the reaction to the antibiotic and the infection, I was hospitalized for four days. At this point, a shift occurred inside of me. I understood that I had severe allergies that could happen anytime, anywhere, and that these allergies could take my life. So, I made an appointment with my allergist and asked for an epinephrine auto-injector.

Later on, I also reacted to a vaccine, which turned out to be an egg allergy. After this, I had an anaphylactic reaction while doing an English internship at the University of Vanderbilt in Tennessee. I ate something that I didn’t know had honey, so my roommate- who, by the way, didn’t know I had food allergies- had to basically drag me to the Student Health Services, where I self-administered the EpiPen.

Two years ago, one of my children was eating popcorn and it had peanuts. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and handed me some popcorn. As soon as I put the popcorn in my mouth I noticed my cheeks and mouth swelling. Yes, I am also allergic to peanuts.

Last but not least, every time I eat gluten, I get hives throughout all of my body. It was then that I discovered that I’m also allergic to gluten.”

Me: How do you feel that food allergies affect your lifestyle?

Tania: “In the beginning, it felt like I was restricted when it came to food. I also lost weight, and I felt isolated. I guess that because I felt isolated, and as a teenager, I didn’t want to feel different, I didn’t take my allergies too seriously in the beginning. I would take risks eating these foods (which is a very bad idea), and thought that antihistamines were going to take care of it. I guess I was lucky that I didn’t have an anaphylactic reaction that took my life when I was young. But with age comes maturity, and after I had that reaction to the antibiotics at the hospital, I saw how fragile life could be, and I started taking my allergies seriously.

Socially, I try to stay away from the allergens and it isn’t that bad, but I have been in situations where I’ve had to leave gatherings because there is one of my allergens, and I start reacting to it by “airborne contamination”.

Emotionally, it’s hard because I have kids, and I don’t want anything to happen to me. I want to be able to see them grow up.”

Me: How do people react when you tell them that you have food allergies?

Tania: “Some people take it seriously, but most people are in disbelief. They comment things like: ‘What? You’re allergic to grapes and honey? I’ve never heard of anyone with those allergies!’ I feel like there is a lot of ignorance because of misinformation.”

Me: How do you create awareness?

Tania: “When I go to places, and I feel like I have to tell people, I let them know. I try to educate them on the subject. I also try not to scare people with my allergies, because sometimes they feel like it’s a weight on their shoulders and feel responsible and scare to eat close to me. I try to help spread the word, and help Food Allergy charities whenever I can.”

Me: Finally, how do you feel about having Food Allergies? 

Tania: “At the end of the day, it is my body and I have to work with it in order to continue my life and in order to be part of my children’s life. I have allergies, but allergies will never bring down my spirit and my life!”

 

I have to say that having Tania as one of my friends has been a blessing. She, not only understands what we go through but also offers us her continuous support. Even though we are thousands of miles apart, it feels like we are in a parallel walk through this journey.

Let’s create awareness, and for this, we have to remember that: “To achieve change, we must speak up. Every voice is Important.”
-Barbra Streisand

Going Nuts

Last month was Penny’s latest challenge: almonds. What can I say? Since the day her food allergies were diagnosed, her allergist had said that she would be O.K. if she consumed almonds. To be honest, the thought of introducing her to a tree nut, and potentially having a reaction to it, kept me from introducing her to this food. Her very first allergist had recommended introducing her to almond milk at the hospital (not in her office, but in the parking lot) in case she reacted, which confused me because if she was O.K. to eat almonds, why did she had to be close to the hospital? Long story short, we had been waiting to introduce this food until she was older and was able to vocalize if a reaction was happening.

Last year, she started seeing a new allergist, who is amazing. In the beginning, he told us that she might not be allergic to almonds, but that due to her past reactions to other foods that she shouldn’t have had reacted to, he wanted to introduce it in his office.

We got to the doctor’s office early in the morning…We, yes, the whole family. We have this tradition in which we support each other when big things happen, and for us, a Food Allergen Challenge is a very BIG deal. When it was time, Penny and I walked in, Paulo & my husband stayed in the waiting area. Why? In case she reacted, we would all be there, but not crowding the room, that way nurses and the doctor could do their job. The nurse checked her vitals, weight & height and informed me that she had tested slightly allergic to almonds. I took a deep breath and trusted Penny’s allergist’s decision. After all, she’s allergic to dairy and has been able to tolerate it in baked goods. Hooray for Oral Immunotherapy (OIT)!

A few minutes later another nurse came in with almond butter. It was time to get started. For the first time, I saw Penny be the one anxious about food. Usually, Paulo, being the awesome protective brother that he is, is the one that gets a bit anxious when there are allergens around. This time, I had to consider that not too long ago, Penny had experienced anaphylaxis due to a yogurt challenge. I had talked to her about this new challenge a few days ago, and after a little bit of talking and hugging, Penny was ready.

The first dose of the allergen was very little. I could see Penny tensing up, the white in her knuckles as she clenched her fists. She started scratching her arms and coughed every once in a while. I had remembered to bring books and toys to distract her, and it worked. She kept herself busy coloring and reading, she did great! She first tried the almond butter and pondered about its taste for a while, and told me that it tastes like chips. She loved it! ☺

Then a second dose was administered 10 minutes after, then a third dose, and so on until she tolerated 2 tablespoons (8 grams) of almond butter. Everything went well, but I wanted to be extra cautious because, on her last failed challenge, it wasn’t until an hour after the challenge had started that she reacted. I talked to the doctor about it and asked him if we could stay a little bit longer in his office. He acknowledged my feelings and told us that we could stay there as long as we wanted or 6 p.m. when his shift was over. 😂 After a full hour had passed by, we decided we were ready to go. From this day on, Penny has been able to eat foods containing almond daily, without a problem. Paulo is ecstatic as well, for he is now also able to eat new foods. ☺

I am so grateful that Penny is able to do these food challenges, and having her participate in OIT gives me hope that maybe one day she’ll be able to eat anything, anywhere without having to be worried about a life threatening allergic reaction.

 

Challenges

It was the day before Penny’s 1st Dairy Challenge. A dairy challenge, in Penny’s case, meant that I would bring a homemade baked good that contained dairy to the Dr.’s office and she would eat this baked good under proper medical supervision- this to ensure that if a severe reaction occurred, the medical staff will have control of the situation. Also, per the allergist’s instruction, Penny had to stop any antihistamines and/or asthma medication 5 days prior to the test.

I got ready: went to the supermarket, got some gluten-free flour, enjoy life chocolate chips, eggs, coconut oil, and the most important ingredients for the challenge: cow’s milk. After everyone went to bed, I stayed up looking for dairy-full cupcake recipes and baked. I’m not going to lie-I was nervous, but positive.

We had decided that the four of us were going to be at the Dr.’s office on this BIG day. Not only to celebrate if Penny passed the challenge but also to give each other support. After all, isn’t that what family is all about?

On the day of the challenge we were there at 7:45 am. Penny was called in at 8:00 am. After having been examined for her asthma and everything else (height, weight, changes in health, etc), the Dr. ordered her to start eating the cupcake. First, they gave Penny ¼  of a teaspoon of the cupcake, slowly increasing the quantity every 15-20 minutes until she had eaten about ¼ of that cupcake. There was a high level of supervision throughout the whole challenge. The nurse would come in the room every 3-5 minutes to check on her, and to ensure that everything was alright. This gave me a sense of security- that if anything happened she was going to be ok. An hour and a half later the challenge was completed, and Penelope had successfully passed. In the weeks to follow, I had to slowly increase the portions (of a cupcake) that Penny ate by ½ every week until she tolerated 1 whole cupcake. This was a breeze; she loved the taste of the cupcake and never had a reaction. I came to understand, at this point, that the treatment that the allergist chose for Penny is called Oral Immunotherapy (OIT). Oral immunotherapy is a treatment that induces the immune system to tolerate a food that a person is currently reacting to. It involves introducing the food that causes the reaction to the person’s system in gradually increasing amounts, with the goal of allowing the person to eventually consume the food without experiencing a reaction.

From now on, Penny had to eat a dairy-full baked good daily. I got creative and baked bread, cakes, brownies, cookies, etc. Eating these baked goods for a month and a half was preparing Penny for the next step: a Yogurt Challenge. Seeing Penny eat things with dairy made me so happy. For 3 years her diet had been restricted, and thinking that she was going to be able to add more things to her diet and potentially eat anything with dairy altogether is pretty exciting.

Her yogurt challenge was scheduled two days after Christmas. A few days before, Penny, Paulo & I went to the grocery store in search of a good vanilla yogurt. Fast-forward 2 days and it was Challenge Day.

Just like the 1st time, we were there early in the morning. This time, I brought her breakfast to eat after the challenge was over. Around 8:30 am, the yogurt challenge began. She had ½ a teaspoon of yogurt. No reactions. Then, about 10-15 minutes later, she had 1 teaspoon of yogurt. Still, no reactions; however, Penny started complaining saying that her stomach hurt because she was hungry. Twenty minutes later, she had a tablespoon of yogurt. This time, a few hives appeared on her face, but after washing her hands and face, the hives went away. Again, according to Penny, the only thing bothering her was that she was hungry. The allergist walked in about 20 minutes after she had the tablespoon of yogurt and since she was cruising through the whole thing, he said that Penny could eat as much as she wanted. She was so happy and she kept saying: “Mommy, this yogurt is so YUMMY!”

Another 20 minutes had gone by. The allergist came back into the office, checked on her and was ready to discharge her with a successful challenge. Then all of a sudden, Penelope developed a cough. The allergist and I kept talking about the next steps to take, and I told him that she wasn’t coughing before, so he said that he was going to keep her in the office for 10 more minutes to see what was going on. I was fine with it: “better safe than sorry”. He also said that Penny could have the breakfast I had brought since she kept complaining about being hungry. She had one bite of her pancake, and then said she didn’t want any more. This was strange. As time passed by, her cough was more frequent, and her energy levels were dropping. She started telling me that she wanted to go home and that she wanted daddy. My husband and son wanted to be there for the challenge, but were both sick with a cold, and decided to wait for us outside.

The nurse came in and stayed with us, checking on Penelope constantly. I asked her to, please, check her lungs for wheezing. She said Penny wasn’t wheezing. At this point, Penny was curled up in a little ball in my lap. Then, as the nurse was going to step out of the room for a second, Penny coughed, but this time at the end of her cough, you could hear the wheezing. The nurse looked at me and asked me if I heard a wheeze. I certainly did. From that moment on, everything felt like it was going downhill: she was in anaphylactic shock. Her wheezing was very loud, and she was struggling to breathe. The nurse called other nurses for help and got the allergist to walk into the office. Penelope was connected to a blood oxygen saturation monitor. My head felt like it was spinning; I kept looking at the monitor: her heart rate kept going up and her oxygen levels kept dropping. I was desperate and felt helpless at the same time.

The allergist looked at Penny and ordered epinephrine be given to her. One of the nurses raced off to another room and came back with a syringe containing the epinephrine. Even though it had only been minutes since she started having the reaction, it felt like hours. Not even a minute after the epinephrine was given to Penny, everything started to change. Her breathing slowly normalized, wheezing subsided and Penny started looking better. Once she started feeling better, she also started having nausea, and eventually threw up the yogurt. At least she didn’t have what was making her sick in her stomach anymore. To be exact, 6 minutes after epinephrine was given her oxygen levels were back to 100%. The doctor ordered the nurse to give her oral steroids to avoid a biphasic reaction. A biphasic reaction occurs anytime from 1 hour to 72 hours after the initial reaction and can happen without any allergen exposure. He also ordered antihistamines because her throat was itching.

By the time my husband was able to make it to the room where we were, Penelope was stable. Everything happened so fast. We left the allergist’s office 4 hours after with instructions to keep giving Penny dairy in baked goods. I’m not going to lie, I was afraid that she was going to have a reaction to baked goods after the severe reaction, but she was fine.  The next step: a Cheese Challenge next month. How do I feel? Scared, but this is the only way we are going to know if her dairy allergy will ever be cured.

This has been one of the most difficult experiences I have ever lived. It left me heartbroken, and it has been difficult even to talk about. I know Penny’s all right and that everything is O.K., but I am still healing. I am grateful to know that epinephrine can save her life if used as the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis, and most importantly, I am hopeful that Penny will be able to surpass this.

 

 

Baby Steps…

If you are part of a F.A. family, you know how hard it is Eating out with Food Allergies. By default, the first thing I do is to make a call directly to the Restaurant. So, when last Thursday I was craving pizza I made a few calls to different pizzerias. As most of you know, we avoid peanuts, tree nuts, dairy & gluten. As luck would have it, there was a pizzeria that had a dairy-free, gluten-free pizza and when I called they assured me that they could make it without cross-contamination. They explained that they used Daiya Cheese & their Gluten Free crust was also dairy-free.

I am not going to lie, even when the restaurant assured me that they can work around my children’s allergies, I still feel doubt and anxiety. It’s so easy to have cross-contamination, and talking by experience, not everybody knows how to handle food allergies.

Anyway, I braved up and off we went. Once we arrived, we wiped down the table and seats to make sure there wasn’t any allergen residue that could’ve started a reaction. Then, I talked to our waitress and explained the severity of Penny’s allergies. She said that she would make sure that the cooks would clean the area and change gloves before preparing my kiddos meal, avoiding cross-contamination.


The pizza was delicious & my kids were able to enjoy pizza in a different environment, reaction free.What a fantastic experience! No doubt we will be returning soon to Farelli’s Wood Fire Pizza.

Second Opinion: From one Allergy to Another

Not to toot my own horn, but when it comes to food allergies my maternal instinct has helped save Penny from many anaphylactic reactions. Case in point when she was around one my husband insisted that I give Penny Peanut Butter since it’s a good source of protein, plus we loved eating it. However, something in my head kept telling me not to. I kept telling him, “Honey, what if she’s allergic to it?” and he always replied, “Nobody in our family is allergic to peanuts, why would she be the exception?” Well, let’s say I was pretty head-strong with this and never gave in.  Penny turned one and we discovered her dairy allergy. It was then that I insisted to the Doctor to do an Allergy blood test panel to see if she had any other allergies. Guess what? I was right!

Since then we go to yearly allergy visits that consist of blood work, visiting the allergist and, maybe, depending on the result a skin test. Penny’s allergies have been consistently getting higher each year, so this year her allergist decided only to test her peanut allergy. But something inside me was restless, I was not convinced. I wanted Penny to be tested for other allergens because lately she’s had random reactions and we haven’t been able to figure out what is actually causing them.  Long story short, we got a referral from her pediatrician for a second opinion.

Unfortunately, for her first appointment with her new allergist I couldn’t miss work, luckily enough, my husband was on vacation so he took her in. He told me that, since her medical records didn’t make it to the new doctor, the Dr. was, at first, a bit incredulous. To be honest I can’t blame him. I sent my husband to that appointment with 2 pages worth of information on what had been happening for the past year. Well, the allergist did some blood work right then and there and discovered that her allergies were severe. After that, he did a skin test to see why she is having these random allergic reactions and sent her to the lab to get more blood work done.

On the skin test, he tested for peanut, dairy, wheat/gluten, eggs, dust mites, pollen, mold, and pet dander. There were good news and bad news… The bad, her peanut allergy is still severe, and she turned out to be almost equally allergic to dog dander. I have been reading about service dogs that are able to detect allergens in most any forms: raw, cooked, oil, butter, dust, etc.  We have been planning, for the past year to adopt a dog and train it to detect Penny’s allergens. The thought of it gave me peace of mind, but I guess, that is not happening anytime soon. At least we found out before adopting the dog. The good, her dairy allergy has decreased significantly, to the point that the doctor is comfortable enough to do a dairy challenge.

When my husband told me about the dairy challenge I got mixed feelings. I mean, I am super excited that my little one might be outgrowing one of her allergies, but on the other hand, I get anxious when I think about the possibility of her failing that challenge. What if she goes into anaphylaxis? We’ve been through anaphylaxis once, but it was caused by skin contact. I have never seen her have an anaphylactic reaction by ingestion. Then, I tell myself, what if she actually passes the challenge? This means that she will be able to expand her diet. Mentioning the words birthday parties, potlucks, social gatherings, and Halloween would not have to send me into full blown panic and we will be able to go out and eat with a bit more peace of mind. The peanut allergy is still scary but, in my opinion, easier to avoid or manage.

Allergies take you on a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes you are sad because your child can’t eat or do certain things, other times you panic (especially when you or your child is having a reaction), you can also get happy that you child can’t eat certain things (we eat healthier; we rarely eat processed foods), but overall I am grateful to be able to know what Penny is allergic to and that there is a medication that can save my child’s life in an event of a severe reaction. Life is good!

Vanilla Glazed Baked Doughnuts

Doughnuts

Ingredients:

Doughnuts:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup & ½ tbsp. non-dairy milk. I used soy milk
  • 2 tbsp. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Stick (8oz), melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Glaze:

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. non-dairy milk. I used soy milk

 

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  • Grease the doughnut pan.
  • In a bowl, mix together egg, non-dairy milk, butter, and vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is well blended.
  • Spoon the mixture into the doughnut pan.
  • Place the pan in the oven and bake for 10 mins.
  • Remove from oven and allow the doughnuts to cool. 

To make the glaze:

  • In a bowl, mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt.
  • Add 1 tbsp. of non-dairy milk to the mixture.
  • When the doughnuts are completely cool, dip them into the vanilla glaze.

 

Enjoy! 🙂

Here we go again… Yearly Food Allergy Testing

Every year, Penny (my severe food-allergic child), has to visit her allergist to discuss her allergies and have a blood test. Then, we wait for the results that determine if her allergies are getting better (in the path of outgrowing them) or if they are getting worse.  When we get close to this date, I try not to get my hopes up, because as it has happened in the past, I get hopeful and then I find out that her allergies got more severe.

This year, I walked into the allergist’s office with little to no hope. We talked about Penny’s most recent reaction when we traveled this summer, discussed what can be done in the future before traveling and established a new emergency plan. Then, the doctor started talking about this year’s blood test and how he thought that Penny’s dairy allergy, which was not too high last year, could have gotten better and depending on the test result we might be able to do an oral food challenge. If the doctor is so hopeful, why shouldn’t I be? I’m not going to lie: I walked out of his office with this feeling that her dairy allergy was outgrown. I was so happy! I kept thinking that I was going to be able to expand her diet and it was going to be easier now.

Well, we went to the lab, got her blood drawn and the waiting game began. A week later I got a call from her allergist… We talked about another reaction that Penny had experienced without any direct exposure to an allergen and then he told me that he had called me to talk about the test results. My expectations were high… and then I heard the following words: “Unfortunately, Penny’s results show that her allergies didn’t get any better”. Her dairy allergy went higher and the peanut allergy is very high now. BUMMER!

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, I was so disheartened… I immediately called my husband to give him the news. He was sad as well. We had, again, gotten our hopes up only to receive bad news. The truth is that even though you know that Food Allergies can go either way, you always want the best for your children. I have to accept our reality: Penny might never outgrow her Food Allergies. It is my job to teach her how to live in a world that’s not allergy-free and where not everybody is allergy-friendly. However, it is something that, with the right education and advocacy, can be achieved.

This is going to be a big year for Penny: she might go to preschool for the first time. What can I say? It scares me like nothing has ever scared me before. But, it is what it is. Of course, I will meet up with the school staff to talk about her allergies and establish an emergency care plan, and hopefully she will be comfortable in an environment where her allergies will be respected and she will be accommodated. After all, food allergies are a part of her life and she has to learn to live with them.

Empathy

One thing that I truly appreciate is empathy. So far, I’ve been blessed with amazing family members, friends, and neighbors who are great at being understanding and considerate when it comes to my children’s allergies. Whenever they visit, they try to avoid allergens at least 4 hours before coming over and never bring any allergens to my home. Also, they wash their hands and mouths when they arrive. If we are the ones visiting, they wipe surfaces to make sure there is no allergen protein residue and put away any food product containing dairy, peanuts & tree nuts. If they happen to have had contact with any of the allergens while we are present, they make sure to wash their hand thoroughly to make sure there’s no allergic reaction. Finally, if we have been invited to their home and they feel like offering us anything to eat, they are kind enough to call me beforehand and ask if we can eat whatever it is that they are offering.

On the other hand, I am grateful when someone that’s not willing to give up those allergens when we are around tells me about it. This way, I make sure we’re extra careful when meeting up with him/her.  I am never trying to be an inconvenience; I am only trying to avoid allergic reactions. But the mere fact that you are honest enough and let me know helps to keep my children safe.

Now, when one of my friends or family members goes out of their way to bring me an allergy-friendly product, it makes me happy. This is exactly what happened when we were on our trip in Puerto Rico. My mom’s friend, Angie, knew about Penny’s allergy and while she was shopping in Marshalls stumbled upon Dr. Lucy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. These cookies are peanut, tree nut, milk, egg and gluten free. Its box says that they test for milk, gluten, peanut, almond, hazelnut and walnut traces in their ingredients and never allow those items in their bakery or warehouse, which gave me a sense of security when offering these treats to my children.  Oh! They’re also Non-GMO. ☺ A physician, who’s also the mother of a child with food allergies created this brand. She states in the cookie box that she built her own bakery to make these treats because she  “know[s] how difficult it can be to find high-quality snacks that taste great”. I agree, at least the chocolate chip cookies, have a rich and delightful taste. What can I say? The cookies were gone that same day. I can’t wait to find more of these delicious treats.

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To all of you that have been kind enough to accommodate my children’s needs, you know who you are, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much easier and less stressful this makes my day.  For me, it is not about convenience, but about not risking my children’s health and lives.

Summer Camp and a Complicated Birthday Celebration

Last month, I traveled with both my kids to Puerto Rico. One of the reasons for our trip was for the kids to be able to go to an awesome summer camp. For Paulo, it meant an all day experience, whereas for Penny it was half day. I’m not going to lie, leaving my food allergic kiddos in school/summer camp is a bit nerve-wracking, especially since Paulo is newly diagnosed and Penny is still learning to identify which food products contain her allergens.

To my surprise, Paulo was really good at identifying what he could or couldn’t eat and understood that he was not able to share snacks or lunch with anybody else. Penny was a different story. In her case, teachers had to be vigilant and extremely careful at snack time. However, they were really good at keeping Penny safe. They told me that it was a learning experience for them. They found it easy to avoid and keep Penny away from peanuts and tree nuts but were surprised with all the food products that contain dairy. They made sure that everybody washed their hands before and after snack and would carefully clean the tables, chairs and materials to avoid an allergic reaction. Overall, both kids had an amazing time and I am happy to say that both children had an allergy-free summer camp experience.

However, like everything in life, nothing is perfect. On the last day of summer camp, we celebrated Paulo, Penny and another child’s birthday. At first, when the director told me about the celebration, I was hesitant for it involved food and as a food allergy mom, that makes me a bit anxious. But at the end, I accepted because the director assured me that she would talk to the mom of the other child celebrating the birthday and would make sure that the celebration would be allergy-friendly. It was my responsibility to bake allergy friendly cupcakes and the other mom would only bring fruits and veggies.

Last day of camp came and everything was looking great. Until, all of a sudden, the other mom comes with a cake on her hands. My heart started pounding with fear and disappointment, and I’m guessing that I did not control my emotions well because as soon as she looked at me, she assured me that the cake was brought only so she could take a picture. I was confused. The only reason I had accepted to have the birthday celebration was because it was going to be an allergy-free gathering and now, this mom knowingly brought an allergen-full cake… Anyway, I trusted that she was going to keep her word and continued with our day. The party was awesome: kids were enjoying the bouncy house, the water slides, and the allergy-friendly snacks.

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It was time to sing Happy Birthday, so we all gathered around the table where I had beautifully placed the 70 homemade allergy-friendly mini-cupcakes and we all sang the birthday song. We shared the cupcakes with everyone and were having an awesome time when all of a sudden the “picture cake” was out. They took the pictures, I looked away, and when I looked back there was a mess made out of the cake’s frosting. I started getting anxious, trying to keep Penelope away from the cake area when I noticed that the mom was cutting the cake and giving away some pieces to some children. This is when I went from anxious to upset. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This mom, who had been told about both my children’s allergies and their severity, and who had agreed on not bringing any allergens, not only brought them, but knowingly was also putting my child’s health and life at risk. I was too upset to talk to her without making a scene, so instead I took our stuff and my severe allergic child and left.

I know and understand that the world is not allergy-free and that not everybody understands the consequences that a little bit of an allergen can cause (in our case, anaphylaxis). In this case, what disappointed me was that this other mom knew beforehand about the allergies and still went on and brought allergens. It saddens me that people can’t see that where their child’s inconvenience starts is exactly where my children’s life is put at risk.

Both my children had an amazing summer; it was their mom who got scared and angry at other people’s lack of understanding. Help me out to spread awareness, so empathy can be achieved.

For more information about food allergies, visit:

Food Allergy Research & Education

Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team

Kids with Food Allergies

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology