We were guilty of the adage “ignorance is bliss.” Allergic to food? Sure, we’d heard stories, but we never knew anyone who had a life-threatening food allergy. The concept was foreign to us, it just didn’t resonate; it wasn’t real. And then it became our reality, just as it is the reality for so many other families in today’s society.
When our daughter, Cameron, was 9 months old, she suffered from chronic congestion, red cheeks, a perpetually runny nose and regular ear infections. Something was not right. Upon taking Cameron to one of my physicians who treated my environmental allergies, his first comment upon setting eyes on Cameron was, “This child has food allergies.”
After running a panel of tests, the results indicated Cameron was allergic to chicken, turkey, egg, fish, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. Cameron was too young to understand the implications of her food allergies. As a mother, however, my first reaction was panic. What will Cameron eat? How will I keep her safe? How will this affect our lives? After the initial shock subsided, rather than feeling sorry for Cameron and for us, I became proactive and learned as much as I could about food allergies. I learned how to administer epinephrine (which I carry at all times). I learned food alternatives (not all hummus is made with sesame). I learned how to talk with chefs and restaurants about their kitchens (French fries fried in the same fryer as fish is a no-no). I learned how to read food labels (there’s a difference between food made on shared equipment with nuts versus food made in a facility that handles nuts). I learned how to talk with teachers and school administrators about snacks and birthday parties at school. While food still created uncertainty and anxiety, I became an advocate for Cameron and all other children who live with food allergies.
Cameron is fortunate; she outgrew her chicken, turkey and egg allergies. Luckily, this has made Cameron’s diet more balanced and easier to handle. However, she still lives with life-threatening allergies to fish, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame – which is a lot. Cameron’s only option is absolute avoidance of such foods. Even the possibility of cross-contamination by trace amounts of allergens is perilous. But, we are no longer paralyzed. We are vigilant. We carry epinephrine and Benadryl. We call restaurants in advance. We carry safe snacks in our bags. We are prepared.
We met Dr. Jordan Orange and his family shortly after they relocated to Houston and learned of Dr. Orange’s commitment to creating Texas Children’s Food Allergy Program around the hospital’s food allergy expert, Dr. Carla Davis. Dr. Orange, Dr. Davis and their colleagues and team are brilliant and are changing the way we treat food allergies. The passion and compassion Dr. Orange, Dr. Davis and their colleagues and team share for treating food allergies is beyond inspiring. Through new and safe initiatives, such as a “food challenge” administered at Texas Children’s under the strict supervision of doctors and nurse practitioners, we are learning more about Cameron’s food allergies. For example, although allergic to peanuts, Cameron can eat Chick-fil-A, even though the chicken is fried in peanut oil (there is a difference between cold pressed peanut oil and hot pressed peanut oil – more education!). What a game changer this was at birthday parties where Cameron could eat the same food as her friends! Although allergic to fish, Cameron can eat canned tuna (although she’d rather not).
Texas Children’s is conducting desensitization studies where children who have life-threatening peanut allergies can now safely eat a handful of peanuts without any reaction. Texas Children’s has removed the risk of a life-threatening reaction for some children. More children will be in the study soon, and then, multi-food desensitization study. It is within our reach. We hope and believe by the time Cameron leaves home for college, she will be desensitized to foods she is currently allergic to.
Food allergies have been a life-altering issue for Cameron and our family, but it has not stopped us. We are educated, we are proactive and we are advocates. Cameron embraces her food allergies as part of who she is and she is her own best advocate. With the hard work and devotion of the world-class experts like Dr. Orange and Dr. Davis, Cameron may not have to worry about her food allergies in a few years. But for now, it is part of who we are and we feel privileged to work with Texas Children’s on behalf of Cameron and all children with food allergies to try to make their lives safer and easier.
If you’re interested in joining us for our 2nd annual Cooking Up a Cure, an event that supports the rapidly growing food allergy program at Texas Children’s hospital, please visit here. The program provides cutting edge research, education and patient care to children suffering from food allergies, and has quickly become a model program for other hospitals and programs around the country and internationally. The memorable evening held at the industrial chic Astorian loft will feature food prepared by Houston’s top chefs. We encourage you to buy tickets early, as we sold out quickly last year.