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Nut-less and Grateful

January 5, 2012 •  8 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Daniella Knell for AllergyKids, introduced by Robyn O’Brien

This week brought the tragic headline of a 7 year old girl who suffered an allergic reaction at school that resulted in cardiac arrest and her heartachingly premature death. As she left for school that day, fully aware of her life-threatening condition, she turned to her mother and said, “I love you, Mommy, I’ll see you later.”

In light of that story and the countless others, including the story of Emily Vonder Meulen, which gave us the courage to move forward as an advocacy group several years ago, we can not emphasize enough how important it is to take food allergies seriously. School should not be lethal.

At AllergyKids, we can not emphasize enough how grateful we are for those working to protect the health of children nor emphasize enough the importance of each and every one of us when it comes to protecting the health of our loved ones from the dangers in the food supply. It is our collective talents that will create the changes we want to see.

I have had some incredibly positive experiences throughout the past year. However, the one which has impacted me most profoundly included my first allergy bullies.

Above and beyond everything else I have learned, is the understanding that we can all benefit from more knowledge and education about managing food allergies.

I have come to realize that unless allergies are a part of your personal world, they can be quite difficult to understand, especially when one is being asked to make accommodations for someone else’s child. Although milk is the most common allergy out there, to date, nuts are the most life-threatening.

‘Keeping nuts out of the classroom’ is just one small part of managing food allergies, particularly once children are of preschool or kindergarten age. Every person is different. Some have sensitivities; some have intolerances; while others have systemic reactions, meaning one or more systems in their body will react strongly to an allergen they should be avoiding. This is where the life-threatening aspect can come in, and the worries increase ten fold.

For parents of children with life-threatening allergies, here are some common anxieties:

  • Will other adults in charge take his/her allergies seriously?
  • Will the adults in charge see my child’s allergy as just an intolerance or sensitivity? Do they understand that ‘lactose intolerance’ is NOT the same as a ‘milk allergy’?
  • Will the adults understand the difference between a mild vs. serious reaction? An itchy mouth may not mean the need for an epi-pen but multiple systemic reactions just may, ie, itchy mouth, hives, coughing or the obvious, projectile vomiting and/or labored breathing
  • Will other adults be too quick to give an epi-pen? It’s always better to be safe than sorry, but these kids can be easily traumatized, especially the younger ones
  • Will other adults be too slow to give an epi-pen? It’s a no-win situation, isn’t it?!
  • Food exposure in the classroom and the cafeteria; let’s NOT forget the computer keyboards, doorknobs and playground equipment, for those whose children are allergic by ‘touch’
  • The emotional toll of being so different, especially for those who have multiple food allergies
  • Will my child be forced to sit at a table alone? Will they be able to participate in classroom activities or can they be included? Will there, again, be ingredients in the activities that they can’t touch?
  • Will my child be made fun of by his/her classmates? by his/her classmates’ parents?

Without a doubt, managing food allergies starts at home with education and awareness.

However, the youngest ones with life-threatening food allergies often don’t even realize the gravity of their situation, NOR SHOULD THEY. Truly grasping what a life-threatening allergy is, is an age appropriate concept. The day will come when they understand.

We do not want to raise fearful children who are afraid to go out into the world. Just like most parents, our hope is to raise happy and self-confident human beings. The surprising benefit of having these challenges so early on in their lives, is that I have found a majority of these children to be more compassionate and understanding of other’s differences. More so than many adults.

Parents, educators, peers and other classroom parents are all part of the village members who help influence how well our children will or won’t be accepted. With your help, we will help these children to successfully be able to take care of themselves.

On behalf of so many parents like myself, THANK YOU.

  • Thank you, for your simple kindnesses, such as sending in treats ALL of the children can eat safely. This means a lot to kids who often can’t participate in school activities and bake sales because of their allergies.
  • Thank you, for being so understanding as to why accomodations have been made to help keep ALL of our children safe in the classroom. We understand the concessions you have to make in possibly not being able to send in your very favorite treats to share!
  • Thank you, for your phone calls late at night and early in the morning to let us know you will be sending in something so that we have time to also send in alternatives for our children.
  • Thank you, for your compassion in NOT making fun of our children.

To all of you, thank you for making sure ALL of our children know they and their needs are equally important. If we work together, it won’t be so difficult in ‘keeping nuts out of the classroom’ .

May 2012 bring you continued good health, happiness and much goodwill!

Daniella Knell, B.A., is the owner of Smart Allergy~Friendly Education. As an allergy awareness educator and consultant, she is actively involved raising allergy awareness via school and hospital presentations for children and adults, national telephone workshops and one-on-one consulting. She also partners with the Boise CO-OP promoting allergy~friendly products which can be found locally. Her children are allergic to 6 of the top 8 allergens plus a few extras. Looking for allergy~friendly ideas for your household? Be sure to follow her via her blog, www.smartallergy.blogspot.com, Facebook, Linked In or Twitter

8 Responses to “Nut-less and Grateful”

  1. sarah

    dear Mark,

    in the uk we follow a different time table for our kids vaccines, and there are lots of allergies (13 million with some form of allergic disease), my son, like many others showed all the signs of food allergy during his first three months, In fact he developed ezcema at day 10 after birth, and this was before any vaccines.
    the global allergies we are seeing are not just due to one factor, there have been so many changes to our world. And its worth bearing in mind that humans have always had the potential to be severely allergic. Early and first record of anaphylaxis (although it wasnt recognsied as such until 1900’s) , was of the death of a Eygptian king who died after a hornet sting. Also, first record of asthma attack was from a monk in the 10th century who described his reaction when he had his straw mattress replaced in the summer.

    my thoughts when hearing of the death of this little girl, reminded me of our son’s first term at school at 4 1/2yrs and the mistakes they made with his first ingestion of peanut, we had no plan in place, but they were fully informed of his long allergy list and had epi pens on site. They didnt recognise that he was reacting, and when the did, they phoned me. Thankfully we were lucky as his reaction was very slow to build up, and unlike this poor little girl , I got my son home after his reaction and hosptial dash, her family did not. so far last year we have used our sons epi pens 3 times, and my son understand exactly how this girl felt. Her parents are now living our greatest fear. my deepest sympathies are for them, and those who loved this little 7yr old.

    • Sarah… thank you for your thoughtful and knowledgeable response. It’s always educational and encouraging to hear from other families successfully managing the same challenges. Yes, I feel that this little girl has also experienced our greatest fears.

      I think deep in my heart that failures came from all sides. More education is needed for all, including parents knowing what the rights are for their children with life-threatening allergies.

      I worry that my child will experience a severe reaction at school, but my greater fear is that those around him won’t know what to do. This sad ending was completely avoidable.

      Now what do we as allergy aware parents moving forward? There is so much to learn from this event.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. It is so important to educate children to be aware. Kids are intelligent. If food allergies, asthma, epilepsy, diabetes are a concern in their classroom they should know what to do whether it is to NOT take causative food allergen like peanuts and tree nuts in their lunch or to get help if a friend or someone is gasping for breath or convulsing, unconscious anything out of the norm. Helping others should be a way of life.
    Our family has food allergies and restricted diets. We farm and the extended family produces a peanut butter replacement to help reduce the risk of anaphylaxis in schools because of peanut butter an all time favourite school lunch sandwich.
    Visit http://www.wowbutter.com to learn more how you can help those with peanut allergies in school, at home and other social settings.

    • Karen… thanks for taking time to comment. I so agree with your thoughts on educating our kids and the fact that they are smart. I don’t think adults give them enough credit. My first passion is educating kids in the classroom and I have been offering allergy classes for schools for the past 4 years. I am amazed at how well my kids’ peers have rallied around in support of them. The only ones who have been difficult are, sadly, the parents.

      We LOVE WowButter. As a matter of fact, I recently did a post on their product, http://smartallergy.blogspot.com/2011/11/wowbutter-this-gluten-free-nut-free.html . In the spring we will be having yet another Allergy~Friendly Bake Sale and will be offering samples of this product to the school.

      I hope more people come to your sense of compassion in that helping others should be a way of life.

  3. Ashley

    Thank you for a touching and well-written article!

  4. Mark

    Our child has severe allergies to milk, shellfish, asthma, and also has ITP, none of which are in our families. The hep-b vaccine that was administered at 2 hours old caused all of this. There are more sick children in America today than ever before and it is because of the multitude of vaccines they receive.

    • Mark… I know the challenge of having children with multiple food allergies. Just the fact that you’re responding lets me know you are a parent who is truly engaged in your children’s challenges. I hope you have a community in which people are caring and supportive. In regard to vaccinations, I know many people feel the same way you do. I can only hope that we someday find a cure to make this rapidly growing phenomenon slow down, or even better, just go away. Thanks for taking time to respond.

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