In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week I am going to share a bit about our allergy story. My oldest son Sawyer was born in September of 2011. He was 8 pounds of little boy perfection. We were exhausted but happy new parents, fumbling our way through diaper changes and bath times. When in doubt, though, we would turn to our parents and friends for advice. In particular, a couple who lived right next door to us who had 2 boys of their own. The youngest son was in my preschool class and he had food allergies. My husband was very good friends with them and spent a lot of time around the kids. We thought we understood food allergies but we never thought in a million years our son would have them. No one in our family had food allergies. We joked with our friends about their son’s allergies. We didn’t take them very seriously. We were clueless and confident that it could never affect our kid. Oh how wrong we were!
When Sawyer was 8 months old we moved from Texas to Florida in two vehicles packed to the brim with our most important belongings. We stopped for the night at my in-laws home in rural Alabama. We were exhausted. My husband, myself, Sawyer, and my mother had been on the road for nearly 10 hours. We all slept really well that night. I can’t tell you how grateful I was when I woke up the next morning to a big breakfast I didn’t have to cook! It was beautiful; from scratch biscuits to sausage, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Sawyer was being loved on by his grandparents and I was able to eat a meal while it was still hot! I thought I was in Mommy heaven. Sawyer had just started eating table food and we had introduced a few veggies and a couple of fruits. His grandmother asked if he had tried egg yet, and I answered that he had not. She proceeded to feed him a tiny bite of egg. No big deal, right?
The reaction was instantaneous! The hives started around his lips and within a minute or so he was covered head to toe in huge red welts. Then he started vomiting. As a new mom who had never experienced a severe allergic reaction I was panicking! I wanted to put him in the car and head for the nearest ER – which was 20 minutes away. However, my mother and my in-laws tried to calm me down and proposed giving him Benadryl. But there was none in the house. My father-in-law drove to a gas station and bought some Benadryl and returned with it some 20 minutes later. (We could have already been at the ER!) Sawyer was too young for the full dose so after discussing it we gave him a half dose. It made him tired and he fell asleep. I undressed him and let him rest on my chest. Forty-five minutes later he woke up itchy and screaming. At this point I put my foot down and acted on my initial gut reaction and started to put him in the car and head for the hospital. Our car was full of stuff and I just threw it on the ground so that I could make room for myself, my husband and my father-in-law. He insisted on driving since I didn’t know where I was going – smart right? Except he was not driving nearly as fast as I wanted him to go.
Once at the hospital they took Sawyer back right away and the doctor berated me for not bringing him in sooner. Luckily his airway was clear but the reaction was continuing to escalate. They had to X-ray his lungs and make sure they were clear and they had to give him 2 doses of Epinephrine. It was approximately 2 and half hours after ingestion that my son received the life saving epinephrine. Coming to the realization that my son could have died was earth shattering because I thought I understood food allergies. But I knew NOTHING! Absolutely nothing! We were so lucky that day!
We got Sawyer into an allergist as soon as possible and they ran blood work that revealed both an egg and peanut allergy. We had to change the way we ate, what foods we allowed to come into the house, and where we could go out to eat. We had to learn to read labels and memorize all of the different names given for his allergens. (Thankfully, they now they have the top 8 allergens in bold print on labels.) Grocery shopping took 3 times as long because I had to read every label, sometimes twice, just to make sure that I didn’t accidentally miss a deadly ingredient. We also had to carry an EPI Pen with us everywhere we went. He had to have one at his grandparents, in the diaper bag and one at home. Those things are expensive.
I think the hardest part of this process has been convincing family and friends that Sawyer has food allergies. Several of our own family members did not take his allergies seriously. It’s like they needed to physically witness a severe reaction before they could believe. I felt like I was in some twilight zone episode where I know that the food is deadly but everyone keeps trying to get me to feed it to my son! It has taken awhile but finally everyone seems to understand Sawyer’s allergies and is more cautious about giving him food I have not approved. It also helps that now he is able to talk and ask if an item contains egg or peanut, so in a way, now he can be his own advocate.
When we had our second son, Hudson, we had him tested for food allergies because of the family history. His blood work came back with only one food slightly elevated, almonds. The allergist felt pretty confident that Hudson would not have an allergic reaction to almonds. She asked if we wanted to do the skin test or just assume the food was probably safe. We decided to do the skin test; in which they prick the back with a solution of the allergen to see if the skin reacts. Sure enough, Hudson had a skin reaction to the almond, enough so that the allergist changed her tune. She told us to avoid almonds and that Hudson would need to carry an EPI Pen as well. So I now have two children that require an EPI Pen to be carried with them at all times and more allergens to be aware of.
Today is so much better than that fateful day nearly 5 years ago, but each day I have to be vigilant. Each day I have to check and recheck foods. Companies change their ingredients from time to time so brands that were once trusted can no longer be trusted. It is a tough job being a parent but it gets exponentially more difficult when your kid can die from a common snack food. Some day my sons will take over the management of their food allergies and maybe I will relax a bit but until then I am on high alert. And to our neighbors back in TX who we didn’t take your son’s allergies seriously enough – I am extremely sorry. We get it now!
And to anyone still reading this; If you are a new allergy parent please know that you are not alone. It all seems so overwhelming at first but it does get easier and you do find a new normal. There are many support groups on social media to help you navigate the questions and concerns that come with this diagnosis. I encourage you to reach out and become active in those communities. I swear every time I turn around someone from an allergy group has taught me something new and I am grateful for the knowledge. In fact, we will be exploring Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) for our sons this year. We are not sure if we will go through with the treatment as of yet. We are still gathering information, but we never would have known about it if I had not been active with a food allergy support group.
To those that read this till the end – Thank you for learning more about food allergies.
B.E. educated about allergies: 1 in 13 children suffer from food allergies so chances are you know a child / family that deals with these issues. Below is a link for more information.