Food allergies change everyday life for Grand Forks familyFor most people, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich looks innocent enough. But to those with food allergies, a single sandwich can be deadly. If your child is affected, the situation is even more frightening.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
For most people, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich looks innocent enough. But to those with food allergies, a single sandwich can be deadly.
If your child is affected, the situation is even more frightening.
Stephanie Suedel, Grand Forks, knows this firsthand. Her son Danny, 7, is allergic to peanut butter and several other foods. But until he was 1, she and her husband Adam had no idea he had allergies.
“He was not a healthy baby. He got sick easily and was not a good eater.”
He didn’t like baby food or table food, she said. “He would gag, refuse the food and push it away. Mealtimes caused a lot of stress.”
Danny had bouts with infections in the sinuses, upper respiratory system, ears and eyes that prompted frequent visits to the doctor.
The Suedels figured their boy was more susceptible to the usual ailments that get passed around day care facilities and that his immune system was developing. Their doctor did not suspect food allergies.
“It was perplexing. We had no idea it was allergies,” she said. “I don’t think it was on the radar for any of us.”
Two days before his first birthday, while at day care, Danny reached over and touched peanut butter in another child’s sandwich. He had an immediate anaphylactic reaction.
Suedel rushed to the scene.
“He swelled up so bad you couldn’t even see his eyes. I didn’t recognize him,” she said.
Anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction, can affect several areas of the body and may threaten breathing and blood circulation. The medication epinephrine reverses symptoms of anaphylaxis; it’s most effective if used promptly.
Within minutes, Danny received the care he needed from emergency medical personnel.
The Suedels spent that day in the emergency room to make sure there were no “rebound reactions,” she said. Their son took extra medications for a couple days after the event.
On another occasion, she decided to make French toast for supper.
“We were still struggling with his eating,” she said. “I thought, French toast is kind of sweet, maybe he’ll like it.”
He ate a “whole bunch of it,” she said, then “threw up all over the place.”
Consulting with doctors, they learned that Danny had an egg allergy and determined that more testing was needed. In addition to peanut butter and eggs, they found, he was also allergic to tree nuts, peas, sesame seeds, soy, wheat and all kinds of beans,
“Nuts and eggs are the two main things he’s allergic to,” Suedel said. “He can’t touch peanut butter or peanut residue.”
He can tolerate other people eating eggs near him, but it’s a “little trickier allergy to accommodate,” she said. “There are a lot of things that include eggs.”
Careful food buying
Danny’s food allergies make menu planning and grocery shopping more complicated.
“We can’t eat lots of different kinds of sauces,” she said. Pastas and breads, for the most art, are off limits. They eat nothing with nuts or eggs as ingredients.
“We’re not super-adventurous eaters.”
The family has a repertoire of 15 to 20 simple, meat-and-potato-type meals, she said. “Any kind of naked meat is OK. We eat a lot of rice.”
When shopping, “we spend a lot of time reading labels,” Suedel said, to make sure items she selects are made in allergen-free facilities.
“There’s no quick trip to get groceries.”
Eating out poses challenges too.
“The type of restaurant we can go to is pretty limited,” she said. “I do a lot of research.”
She checks nutrition and allergy information on businesses’ websites.
“A lot of places post this information, especially fast-food places, but more and more sit-down restaurants are doing it too,” she said. It all goes into a hefty, three-ring binder.
“We keep this information and bring it on trips,” she said.
In restaurants, they inquire about whether peanut oil or sesame oil is used in food preparation, for example, or if utensils and pans are in contact with the allergens that Danny must avoid.
There are places they don’t visit because of fear of cross-contamination.
“It does change your mindset,” she said. “When we go into a restaurant, my husband and I visually scan the place” for potential dangers. They make sure, for instance, that “we’re not (seated) too close to the person three rows down who’s eating something with peanuts in it.”
Social events are the most difficult, she said. A birthday cake from a bakery where they also bake mocha bars, which contain peanuts, raises serious concern.
“With certain cake mixes, we have to check if the cake was made using eggs.”
Since they received the diagnosis, “it’s come full circle,” she said. “We realize, no wonder he didn’t like peas, he didn’t feel good after eating it.
“As he gets older, there are more and more things that he can tell us don’t make him feel good. It's becoming more apparent those were the foods that his little body was trying to tell us (at the time) he couldn’t eat.
“They are all things he didn’t like as a baby.”
In her work as an occupational therapist, working with kids who resist eating, she said, “I tell other families to respect that a little bit. Don’t push them too hard to eat things they don’t want.
“It may be as simple as changing their diet.”
‘How life is going to be?’
Six years ago, when she got that phone call from the day care, alerting her to Danny’s first allergic reaction, Suedel remembered, “I absolutely panicked.”
After they left the hospital, she said, “I thought, ‘Oh gosh, is this how life is going to be?’
“You grieve — just like for any kid who has a difference. It’s a hard thing for parents to make that adjustment.”
In subsequent years, Danny’s condition has improved. His mild allergy to soy and wheat has pretty much subsided.
“He’s growing out of that,” she said. “He’s able to eat both of those foods now.”
Whether or not he’ll also outgrow the other allergies is uncertain.
“It’s variable for each child,” she said. “It depends on how they respond.”
Various research efforts provide hope to families affected by food allergies, she said, including those aimed at desensitizing the body so reactions will be less severe.
She’s had to instill in Danny the “gravity” of his food allergies.
“We’ve coached him from the second he could understand. We instill in him that he needs to bring the EPI pen with him wherever he goes,” she said. “If someone offers him food, he has to always ask what’s in it.”
He has to be “an advocate” for himself, she said, and to “take responsibility as much as he can, even at his age.”
“Despite all the allergies he has, it can always be worse,” she said. At work, she sees kids with allergies to milk, wheat and soy which are in almost everything.
“I truly consider ourselves (to be) lucky. Danny’s allergies are manageable,” she said. “We make the best of every situation.”
Knudson covers health and family. Call her at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572 ext.1107 or email email@example.com.