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September 4, 2006

'Peanut-mom' shares perspective on allergy

source: TownOnline.com
By Jennifer Geraghty

As a new academic year begins, parents are busy preparing backpacks and planning meals and snacks for their children to take to school. This year, I am too, but from a very different perspective than the years before. Last May, my 7-year-old, peanut-allergic son passed a food challenge, which cleared him of his potentially deadly food allergy. Only about 10 percent of kids with peanut allergy ever outgrow it, and mine did. The joy our family feels comes from what seems like a miracle, even though it is most likely merely a developmental change in my son.

As I've shed my "peanut-mom" identity, thoughts have swirled around in my mind, and feelings have erupted in my heart. It feels strange to be in the other "camp" - the throngs of parents with kids who must abide by the rules that food allergic kids' parents and Hingham schools have set to help prevent dangerous reactions.

When I think back to six years ago, after I resurfaced from the crushing news of my son's peanut allergy, I realize that my life settled into a steady stream of strategy, preparation, training, and vigilance. Reading every label on every food item going into his mouth; interrogating restaurant staff at every restaurant we patronized; stocking classrooms with peanut-free snacks; baking dozens of safe goodies for every special event; negotiating birthday party cakes and treats with other families; safeguarding Halloween treats; educating my extended family, other parents, teachers and school staff, babysitters on the use of life-saving Epipens to be kept with my son at all times; working with schools, camps, and after-school programs to create a safe environment for food allergic kids, was at times exhausting, frustrating, and eye-opening. Overarching these emotions was the horrible fear that my son could die from the bite of the wrong cookie.

By now, most families with children in school know of at least one of the 5 million children in America struggling with food allergy. Many people know now that the smallest trace of peanut especially, eaten, touched or inhaled, can send a child into anaphylaxis, during which the throat can close. Unfortunately, at times I encountered adults who didn't get it. I would tell myself it must be the deadliness of food allergy that eludes some people; why else would anyone ever have a problem with any changes that keep food allergic kids safe? A lack of empathy? In my experience, those who bristled or even protested against the inconvenient measures we "peanut moms" must take to keep our kids alive were greatly outnumbered by kind, concerned, careful people who did wonderful things to protect my son and others with food allergy. Those who were able to sacrifice the convenience of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, wipe down their tables and countertops, or buy their birthday cakes at certain bakeries displayed the best of human compassion. Such goodness was overwhelming to me, even when these wonderful people would downplay their efforts.

The school community needs to continue their efforts to keep these brave kids well.

Posted by David at September 4, 2006 6:12 PM