sad and tragic story about a 13 year old girl who died from eating peanuts - when her parents did everything right - I decided I needed to write something. The parents are talking to news stations, writing articles and doing everything they can in hopes of sparking a national discussion on the topic. So, to help, I am doing my part and writing what I know...
A PLEA TO THE COMMUNITY...
After I had my first child, and was around other kids more, I learned that many had food allergies. Some were minor (like a behavioral reaction) and some were severe (life and death). I don't want to offend those that have kids with "minor" allergies by calling them "minor"...but I have both...and believe me, in comparison, it's "minor". Anyway, before I had my second little monkey and before I found out my first had a sensitivity to soy, I rolled my eyes when I heard "food allergy". Honest. I feel horrible now of course. But, as in almost every circumstance - if it hasn't happened to you, you can't fully understand. I hear people now saying food allergies are "crazy" and "exaggerated". Before I had my second, I would have agreed.
However, once I had my little girl, things changed. She was having problems with asthma and excema very early on and I finally took her to an asthma and allergy specialist. She was absolutely amazing and very experienced. Just from talking to me (told her I was breastfeeding and about my baby's asthma problems) and from looking over my infant (around 9 months) she said, "You child either has an egg or peanut allergy." I looked at her like she was insane. How could she know? I ate peanuts my whole pregnancy - isn't that supposed to help?!
"I've been doing this forever, and babies her age do not have problems with asthma and excema without having an allergy." I didn't want to believe her but the tests came back positive for peanuts. She was having a reaction to my breastmilk. A lot of things go through your mind when you first find out - but the biggest feeling is fear. What if i forget? What if I mess up? My child could die because I make a mistake?! And also...Now I'm one of "them"...I'm a parent of a child with a food allergy. Everyone's going to have to tiptoe around my child, I'm going to have to make sure all her teachers know, the church nursery workers have to know, I'm going to have to tell all the parents of children she goes home with...and on and on.
But, with anything, you read the literature, you learn what to do if it happens, then you move on. However, when you hear stories like the one I mentioned above, you rethink things. Also, once your child goes to school, things also change.
We have had one incident since we found out she has an allergy. Luckily, it wasn't severe. I didn't even have to administer her epi-pen. But, as the allergy specialist told me the day we found out..every reaction will be different. That's the scary thing. I wasn't around her when she ate it. She had just turned four and she knew that she needed to ask before she ate anything - especially candy. What I guess I didn't stress to her was that she needed to ask ME. She asked a youth at our church - "can I eat this?" Of course the youth said yes, not knowing that she was really asking - "does this have peanuts in it?" She started throwing up about an hour after she had the food. I immediately started asking about what she had eaten and her brother said she had eaten a piece of candy with a shiny silver wrapper. I actually found the wrapper - a milky way. I asked her how she felt (besides the throwing up) and called our emergency on call doctor. I relayed to the doctor what had happened and that, besides throwing up, she complained of a sore throat. The doctor then repeated what I said, then told me that was her way (at 4 years old) of saying that her throat was swelling up. "Go to the ER immediately" were her next words. I put her in the car and watched her in the rearview mirror the entire way - talking to her and not letting her go to sleep (it was very late). Once we got there everything was fine...but I learned something. And I learned something from reading the above story...don't ask how she's feeling, don't wait for the reaction, don't call a doctor. If you know the child ate peanuts go directly to the ER. Administer the epi-pen on the way if you need to. It could save the child's life.
I've talked to her again about what she should eat. And now, since she understands what happens when she does eat it, she is more diligent. But she can't be held accountable for her actions yet. She's too young. That's the scary part. I'm sending her to school for the first time and I can't see what she's eating. The cafeteria has assured me that the kitchen is peanut-free. But what about the food the other children bring? She knows not to eat it...but what if she does? What about the parents that bring in cupcakes for their child's birthday? No one is there to make sure she's safe. I asked the office what I should do in that case, then I talked to the teacher. None of us really knew what to do. Basically, I will tell her that she is not allowed to eat any food anyone brings in...but will she remember? I will leave treats and food for her in the room that the teacher can give her that we know are safe...but will the teacher always be there? What if there's a sub? I'm suddenly forced to leave the life of my child in her own 5-year-old hands and it's scary.
This got me to thinking about how much can I inconvenience other parents and teachers? "It takes a community to raise a child"...but how much responsibility can you put on the community? Then I started thinking - my child isn't the only one. There are certainly other children in her school that also have a peanut allergy or a nut allergy. There are most definitely children in the community that also have this allergy. So, after more thinking, I've decided on this...
Parents, friends, family, community: PLEASE do not roll your eyes at food allergies. Not only should you be aware that they are out there, you should make sure that YOU are not the one causing an innocent child to have a reaction. I know that's inconvenient, I know that's more responsibility and I know that's something you don't want to deal with. But for the sake of our children, please do. When you take snacks for a sports game - don't include anything with nuts or peanuts. When you take a potluck dish to church - don't make anything with nuts or peanuts. When you take snacks or cupcakes to school - do not take anything that has peanuts or nuts. When you go to a family event or a friend's cookout...unless you are 100% sure that you know absolutely everyone that is going to be there and their allergies - do not take anything with nuts or peanuts. And for goodness sakes, if you know of a child with a peanut/nut allergy - maybe at church or in your child's class - don't send anything with your child with peanuts/nuts because it could end up in that childs' hands. This may be an annoyance, but just think of this - how do you think the mother of the rice krispie treat bars (with hidden peanuts) in the above story feels? She innocently took those to a camp cook out...and because she did a child is dead. Is it her fault? Of course not. But the fact remains, if she hadn't taken them, the child would be alive.
I'm not saying boycott nuts and peanuts - eat them all you want in your house. But if my child comes to your house - don't give her any. If you don't know if the child's allergic - please don't ask the child, just assume they are. Don't put it on the child. If you are taking the peanuts/nuts out of the house - please think...will these foods be around any children that could mistakenly eat them and shouldn't? I had a friendly neighbor offer my children cookies (as pk's they are around people in the church alot, and the members like to give them stuff - esp food). As she was taking them out of the package to share, I nonchalantly asked if they had peanuts. She replied - I don't think so. I politely asked for the package and read the warning - contains peanuts. It wasn't a big deal in her life so it didn't really matter to her. She had never had to think about it before. She wasn't trying to hurt my child, but by being ignorant...she could've cost her her life. Please, please, please be aware. This is no longer an "annoyance" or "inconvenience" it is real and all around you. You do not want to live the rest of your life with the guilt of, "if I had just made the chicken salad without nuts to take to the church picnic, she'd still be alive". No, it would not be your fault...but the fact remains, the child would be alive if you had. You are not responsible for my child, but at 5 years old, she isn't able to be responsible for herself yet. She can't even read the labels yet. I am no longer at her side all the time - she is at school, church and other activities without me. Please don't give her anything with peanuts - it could kill her. And no, I wouldn't blame you - but she would be alive if you hadn't.