We found out our daughter Stella had food allergies when she was just under a year old. It began when we went out to dinner one night and we decided to give her her first bite of vanilla ice cream. Later when we got home and lifted her from her car seat we found her covered in hives. Little did we know that would be the first time for countless other times when she would have an allergic reaction. Sometimes it was the same tell-tale hives, other times her entire face would swell within seconds, causing her eyes to be barely visible through two slits. A few times my child was unrecognizable because whatever food she ate would cause her to look deformed. We got the message. The message was loud and clear: that food allergies are serious and not to be taken lightly. They are unpredictable. They are terrifying. They are life threatening.
Last summer a young 13 year old girl named Natalie Giorgi died after accidentally eating something that contained peanut butter. She was with her father, a doctor. They used three Epi-Pens to try and save her. It wasn’t enough. Natalie was diagnosed with having an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts after suffering a mild reaction to a tree nut when she was a toddler. She and her family avoided tree nuts and peanuts her whole life up until the fateful evening when she accidentally ate something with peanut butter. Just because you have a mild reaction once doesn’t mean it will be mild the next time you’re exposed. There’s no such thing as having a “mild” food allergy. They are all serious because they are so unpredictable.
7 year old Joseph DeNicola died a few days after suffering an allergic reaction to something he ate on Halloween this year. Joseph had a milk allergy. Although nuts are the most lethal, all food allergies can be life-threatening.
This week, the day before Thanksgiving- the biggest food-centered holiday of the year- college sophomore Chandler Swink, age 19, died after being exposed to peanuts at a friend’s house. He injected himself with his Epi-Pen, drove himself to the hospital and was found unconscious in the parking lot. He was in a food allergy induced coma for more than a week before he died. His school district did what they could to keep him safe and made their district “peanut free” to accommodate him, but because of that he was bullied by both parents and students because of the nut restriction. He was happy to finally be in college where he was no longer labeled as the boy who was allergic to peanuts.
And just yesterday on Thanksgiving day, 16 year old Jamie Mendoza died after mistakenly eating a peanut butter cookie he thought was chocolate chip on October 15. Instead of enjoying a nice Thanksgiving with family and friends, his parents said their final goodbyes to their son.
THIS HAS GOT TO STOP. No one knows exactly why there is the sudden increase of food allergies in our children, but there is no denying it. They exist. They are real. They are unpredictable. And they are deadly.
Please, please, PLEASE- I beg you to SPEAK UP about the dangers of food allergies. Educate your family, your children, your friends, your co-workers, teachers, strangers and anyone who will listen. I know sometimes I feel my daughter’s food allergies is all I think or talk about, that I must sound like a boring broken record. Sometimes I assume that my friends and family understand more than they actually do. Sometimes I’m surprised by how much understanding they have and that they go above and beyond to keep my child safe, and for that I am forever grateful.
Remind your children often about the dangers of food allergies. Teach them to take care of themselves, and to speak up when needed. Do food allergy drills with them. Practice any scenario you can think of that may put them in danger and talk about what they would do. Use expired Epi-Pens on oranges for practice. Get comfortable on how to use one, and teach their friends how to do it too. Talk about the signs of an allergic reaction so they know. Never stop teaching them.
These stories of young people dying because of eating something they are allergic to tears at my heart. These are all of our children. This is all of our burden to make sure they are safe, to make sure our own children who might not have food allergies know how to take care of those who do.
THIS HAS GOT TO STOP.