July 23, 2014

Raising a Child With a Severe Nut Allergy

Interview with Julie
Introduced by Amy

My sister, Julie is one of the people I look up to most.  She is such a good momma, sister, and friend! (Oh, and an insanely talented artist, can't forget that!)  I asked her to talk to us about her daughter's peanut allergy, because I think it's so important for others to understand.  Sometimes it's easy for us to roll our eyes or get impatient when we are asked to make accommodations for other kids, such as only taking certain kinds of snacks to nursery, daycare, school, a birthday party, etc.  I've even heard moms complaining on Facebook about these requests, and even hinting that the moms are being "over-the-top" or paranoid.  And, ya know what?  I totally get where they are coming from.  We all have our routines and it's hard to adapt or change, especially when we're dealing with picky kids and what they want to take to school for lunch.  Plus, sometimes it's just plain tricky to figure out how to avoid certain ingredients when making something to take to a party or potluck!

But, my perspective has changed since I've watched my sister and her family adjust to dealing with a severe food allergy.  It's kinda crazy, since these kind of allergies are to products that are so commonplace in most of our homes.  Yet, this everyday product is deadly to their child.  I found it interesting to hear my sister's experience--I am amazed by how vigilant they have to be with their daughter.  It definitely causes you to feel more compassion for these children and their families.  Here are her thoughts!

Julie's family!
Ok, Julie, who in your family has the peanut allergy?

My 4 year old daughter, Emily.

Julie with Emily
So what makes a peanut allergy so serious? 

A peanut allergy is one of the most severe.  You go into anaphylactic shock, which is where the person's airways swell, cutting off their breathing, and their body goes into shock.  They break out in hives and their blood pressure drops.  Basically, your body shuts down--your heart is slowing and your airway closes so you can't breath.  Without an epinephrine shot (epi-pen) to re-start your nervous system, you will die.

Yikes!  So, how did you find out your daughter had this allergy?

A little while after she turned one (they recommend you wait till one-year-old to feed a baby peanut butter) I gave Emily a piece of a peanut butter sandwich to try, not thinking much of it.  Suddenly, she went bright red and started screaming.  She stayed swollen and puffy around her mouth and eyes--it looked like she had been stung by a bee on her face.  I took her in to be tested by an allergist, and she is allergic to all tree nuts, like peanuts, walnuts, almonds, etc.

When we found this out, I cleaned and vacuumed my entire house well, vacuumed under everything, including the couches and the car floors and seats so I knew there wasn't any nuts or crumbs from something with nuts in it.

How does having a child with a nut allergy affect your everyday life?

I keep an epi-pen in my purse at all times.  Every time I have a babysitter, I show them how to use it, and leave it on the kitchen counter just in case.  I have a paper with an action plan and phone numbers to call according to the level of the symptoms/exposure.  Once the epi-pen is given, they have to go to the ER, because it can't solve the issue, it just gives you a little time.

I have to read every label.  We have to be so careful, we can't even have products manufactured in a plant which also processes nuts, because of the risk.  I take other food and treats with us wherever we go, cause I can't risk her eating food at someone else's house.  I try to take yummy things that she likes, so she doesn't feel like she's always left out when others have treats that she can't have.  When we have a family party, I email everyone beforehand to remind them not to put any nut products in any food that they bring, since Emily will be there.  Everyone is great about it, and I can enjoy the party knowing my daughter is safe.

What can others do that is helpful?

Be understanding.  If you aren't sure about a certain product being ok, bring the labels so that the mom can read the ingredient list.

What would you say to other moms of kids who deal with this?

If you have reason to think your child might have a nut allergy, or any other allergies, go to an allergist and have them tested.  That's much better than finding out the hard way.

Ok, I have to ask: How do you not live in constant fear?

When I found out that Emily had this allergy, I found support.  I found other moms who have children with peanut allergies and asked them the hard questions to prepare myself.  That's what I would tell other moms in my situation to do.  Ask them about different scenarios, like when they've been in an ambulance, when they've had to rush to the ER, and then you can plan ahead.  You can't freak out in an emergency--it's so important that you are calm so you can act quickly.  You want to be able to be the calm mom in a moment of crisis.  Just prepare and prevent and be careful.  I keep the epi-pen near her at all times.

The most dangerous time for a child with a nut allergy is during their teenage years.  They are expected to carry their epi-pen with them and sometimes they forget.  Plus, they are risk takers and sometimes impulsive or just absent-minded.  Mistakes can happen so fast, so they have to have their epi-pen with them.  There was a teenage boy with a nut allergy in Utah who recently died because he absently grabbed a handful of pretzels and popped them in his mouth, not realising that their were nuts in the mix.  He spit it out immediately, but his body was already reacting...Since he didn't have his epi-pen with him, he went into shock and died before anyone could do anything.  But, my doctor has seen epi-pens save lives, so we have to teach our kids how important it is to be aware of what they eat and to always have their epi-pen.

Emily and my son hunting for Easter eggs at Grandma's house!  Of course, my sister carefully chose the right candy for the eggs...lots of jellybeans and smarties!
Once you've done all you can to be prepared for an emergency, you try not to worry and just keep living life!  :)


Wow, pretty crazy, huh?  Can you imagine if people kept cyanide or arsenic accessible in their cupboards, on their counters, and in their kids lunch boxes?  I mean, that is extreme, but for a child with a severe allergy to a food, that food is just as deadly.  I mean, a 15-year-old girl from Canada died after kissing her boyfriend who had eaten a peanut butter sandwich hours earlier!  It can be that severe.

Please don't think I'm trying to say that we should ban every product that someone could be allergic too...that isn't realistic or fair or even possible.  But, I am saying, it's good to think about the perspective of others.

So, next time you feel annoyed when you are asked not to bring a certain food to a classroom or party, maybe you could think of this: if you saw another person's kid hanging over a cliff, screaming for help, how fast would you run to pull them to safety?  You'd do it in a heart beat.  It's not even a question, huh?  And, most of us would put our own life in danger to save a toddler from an oncoming car.

Well, when someone asks us to not put peanut butter in any treats that are given to the class, it's pretty much the same thing.  We are saving a life.  Why is that such an inconvenience, when we would do SO much more in another circumstance to save a child?  So, please remember compassion.  These families aren't trying to be anal or too protective, just like you aren't being anal or too protective when you don't let your toddler play in a busy street.  It's a parent's job to protect their child from harm.  These parents just have to worry about an extra danger that most of us don't.

Ok, Ok, I'll get off my soap box now!  :)  Sorry, I just love my sweet little niece so much, and the thought of harm ever coming to her makes me sick.  I just hope that we can all support the kids, mommas, and families affected by severe allergies.  It isn't easy for them, but we can ease their burden by being kind and helpful, and looking out for their child, like we would protect our own from harm.

How about you, friends?  Do you or anyone in your family have a severe allergy?  What precautions do you take?  What is the hardest part?  How can others support you?  (I am allergic to Nitrous Oxide--aka Laughing Gas--and I found out when I ended up in the emergency room when they tried to take my wisdom teeth out!  It was so random and unexpected!  I was puking, and quit breathing like 5 times before they got me to the ER...pretty freaky!)

If you appreciated this post, please LIKE/SHARE!  Also, if you know of anyone who is has a child with a nut allergy or other severe allergy, please pass this on to them!  It can mean so much just knowing that you're not alone. :)

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