|From Mother Betsy Wiens:
Our family has been dealing with food allergies for 12 years, since my daughter was diagnosed with a life threatening peanut allergy at the age of one. The change in knowledge and awareness of this condition has increased greatly thanks to organizations such as the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).
To give you a couple of examples of what things were like back in 1994:
- When we were enrolling my daughter in preschool, the preschool said their lawyer advised them against administering the Epi-pen in the case of an emergency.
- When I voiced concern to an airline reservationist that it might not be safe for my daughter to be in an airplane with everyone around her eating peanuts, he suggested we walk to our destination!
As with any problem, we felt better when we were armed with more knowledge. We read about FAAN in a newspaper article and signed up for their newsletter immediately. The newsletter keeps us up to date on research and legislation, gives in depth information on food allergies and anaphylaxis, shares other members' experiences, etc.
It's difficult to have a young child with a food allergy because you quickly learn that all social gatherings include food. People would frequently tell me not to worry because my daughter was so smart and she knew what she could not eat. Those comments would depress me because I had to face the fact of how many people still didn't "get it." As if a five year old could understand cross-contamination and know how to read ingredients!
Now my daughter is a teenager. She's handled school, camp, and we've even traveled out of the country with her. Although we have a better comfort level because she does assume most of the responsibility, she has now entered the highest risk group: teenagers. So we still talk about it all the time. We try and set a good example when we take her to restaurants by discussing things with the food server or manager. We've instructed her friends on how to use the Epi-pen. Our approach is extremely low risk and she seems to find comfort in that.
My daughter and I attended a FAAN conference last spring. We learned a great deal, but it is scary how few answers there are to this dilemma. No one is sure why it's happening (the rate of children with food allergies has doubled the past 10 years!), how to stop it, or if one may "outgrow" it. The only real answer we got is that the food allergy epidemic cannot be simply genetic due to the rapid increase in incidence.
So we are very thankful for the focus on food allergies that builds awareness and hopefully will help find a cure.
From Daughter Avery, Age 13
Growing up with a food allergy has changed my life in many ways. Even in preschool, I remember having to bring my own snack to school while all the other kids ate the same thing. While I was starting elementary school, my parents didn't want me to go to the neighborhood school because there wasn't a nurse. I was too young for my parents to trust me, so it was a very scary time for them. Everywhere I ate we had to ask about the food. Most of the time they'd just look at us funny and say, "There's no peanut butter in chicken fingers!" We would try to ask about peanut oil or if my food had come in contact with nuts, but we rarely got through to them. Flying on an airline, they were going to serve the stranger next to me peanuts whether I was allergic or not. They didn't care.
Since no one knew anything about food allergies, and neither did we, my mom subscribed to the newsletter from FAAN. It is a wonderful organization that helps people with food allergies learn how to be safe. I owe my life to them, and so does my dad. He got stung by a wasp in the middle of nowhere and went into anaphylactic shock. My Epi-pen saved his life. Without FAAN, we probably wouldn't always carry an Epi-pen, or warn my teachers at school every year, or know which foods to avoid. Thanks to FAAN and an increase in food allergies, awareness is increasing as well. When I go to a restaurant, most waiters know what to tell me when I say I'm allergic to peanuts. If we call ahead on airline flights, they won't serve nuts near me. Although awareness is more common now, there are still no answers or cures for food allergies. FAAN works hard to get closer to those things every day. The FAAN Walk for Food Allergy is a great way to support them and raise money toward what will someday be a cure.
Visit the FAAN website to learn more about the organization and sign up for a FAAN Walk for Food Allergy in your area.
If you cannot participate in the Food Allergy Walk but would like to make a donation, please visit the secure donation page set up by the achoo! ALLERGY team.