News of any child’s sudden death or injury terrifies every parent. But for me, hearing about a child who dies as a result of accidently eating peanuts hits especially close to home. Last night was one of those nights I laid awake after reading about 13-year-old Natalie Giorgi's death after biting into a treat containing peanut butter. Tears streamed from my face for a family I’ve never met. Because this could happen to my family. And millions of others with a child who suffer from food allergies.
My heart will always be with the Giorgi family. My hope is that this terrible tragedy will generate new awareness and save countless more little lives.
My daughter, Ellie, had just turned two when she suffered an anaphylactic attack after eating half a peanut butter sandwich. Blood and skin tests confirmed a severe allergy to peanuts. Our world turned upside down. I got to know my new best friend, the EpiPen, and I trained, re-trained and trained again anyone who watched Ellie.
Trips to the grocery store turned into hours-long fact-finding missions. Sheesh, it seemed everything – from obvious foods, like baked goods and candy, to packages of shredded cheese – “may contain peanuts” or is “manufactured on shared equipment”.
Thankfully, we’ve never had to use Ellie’s EpiPen since her diagnosis. She’s now 6 years old and has been under Dr. Roger Friedman’s expert care for 4 years. We’ve fallen into a routine that consists of strict vigilance, constant label-checking, and education to ensure her safety. Our menus include fewer packaged items and more whole foods. (The healthier eating part’s been a bonus!)
Even though we take all possible precautions, news reports of tragedies related to food allergies never fail to send me back into panic mode. I’m particularly unnerved because in just three short weeks, we’re sending our daughter out of our current comfort zone to kindergarten. Because food allergies are becoming so common - it's estimated that one child in every classroom in America has a diagnosis of peanut allergy - her new school takes excellent precautions for children with food allergies.
In addition to following the policies in place at school, here are a few of the rules we live by:
Packed food is safe food. Ellie knows she will only be able to eat the lunch and snacks I pack for her. She’ll sit at a peanut-free lunch table with lots of other kids just like her. Class parties including birthday celebrations with homemade or bakery treats are an absolute no-no. I will provide Ellie’s teacher with a bag of safe treats for parties.
Where goes Ellie, goes the EpiPen twin-pack. And someone who knows how to use it. Period.
No school bus, for now. This is just a personal choice for us. Ellie is still so little. What if a friend offered her a peanut butter cup or peanut butter cracker and she momentarily forgets? Until she learns to inject herself in an emergency, we’ll be driving her to school.
There are steps everyone can take to keep children with food allergies safe. On behalf of food allergy moms everywhere,
I ask that you please do not offer a child food without checking with their parents first. Ever. You’d be amazed at what seemingly safe foods are in fact, not.
Jane Abel is a Video Marketing Account Manager at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She creates video and interactive products for consumer, physician, research, donor and internal audiences.
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