Today’s interview is with Tami, a mother of a young daughter who has severe peanut and nut allergies. Tami is here to share her story and how her experiences with her daughter’s allergies has prompted her to start a business helping families going through the same experience, as well as promote and educate others about food allergy awareness.
1. Who’s affected by the allergy?
My oldest daughter, who is 6, has multiple life-threatening food allergies. My youngest daughter, who is 4, had some mild food allergies when she was younger, but has fortunately outgrown her food allergies.
2. What type of allergy is it?
My daughter is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, chickpeas and sunflower seeds.
3. When was she diagnosed?
When she was 18 months old.
4. How did you find out?
She had her first reaction when we gave her peanut butter. She was a preemie and had always been lower in weight. When she was 18 months old, our pediatrician advised trying peanut butter to increase her fat intake. We gave it to her one morning on a bagel.
“The peanut butter touched her face and she instantly broke out in hives.”
Luckily, she did not ingest any that morning. We immediately took the bagel away and gave her Benedryl. We were at the allergist office within the next few days for testing and have had an EpiPen with us ever since.
5. How serious can a reaction be?
Reactions can be life-threatening. We never, ever, go anywhere without our emergency medication and train all who will have her in their care how to respond, and to respond promptly. Minutes cannot be spared if a reaction is escalating.
6. What major changes have you had to make since?
We have made the decision to keep our home allergy-free so that she feels safe at home. As a result, we have changed the way we eat – I miss hummus as my evening snack!
“And we are extremely cautious and diligent about protocol when dining out.”
We admittedly eat home more often than out. If a restaurant does not have good protocol in place, it is not worth the risk.
For the time being, we have also decided not to fly. We had a bad experience on a flight shortly after we were diagnosed and decided to drive for trips until the girls are older. We still love to travel and have gotten really great at cooking meals on the road and finding hotels that offer full kitchens.
7. What’s your favorite “allergy friendly” meal?
Not so much a meal, but a snack. We never buy boxed granola bars as most are also produced in a facility with nuts and seeds. A few years back, a neighbor shared the Weelicious chocolate chip granola bar recipe with me. I omit the coconut and use Enjoy Life chocolate chips.
They are AMAZING! I can’t make them fast enough!
8. What can’t you keep in the house, that you miss the most?
Hummus, almonds and walnuts – I didn’t realize how much I ate them until we stopped bringing them home.
9. What’s been most challenging about managing her allergies?
The challenge for me has been in deciding not to do certain things because of the food allergies.
“I want my daughter to be involved and do “normal” kid things, but there are times when her allergies trump the activity due to risk.”
We try to make arrangements for things to be safe, and usually it works out, but it breaks my heart when we ultimately decide that something will not work and we/she does not participate.
10. Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable/reacted badly?
People make comments or ask questions sometimes that will upset me, but I realize 99.9% of the time it is out of lack of awareness. I think the more we can educate and spread awareness, the smarter everyone will be about food allergies.
My own experience with lack of awareness and support for food allergy families prompted me to start my own food allergy coaching business, Thrive On Consulting. I am hopeful that the work I am doing, and will continue to do, will help those with food allergies gain awareness.
“I have made it both my personal and professional mission to create awareness and education so that those with food allergies can thrive and those that don’t have food allergies will understand why it is so important to be aware.”
11. On the flip side, has anyone gone out of their way to prepare something special for you?
We are so fortunate to have super supportive family and friends. I have so many examples but there are a few that always stand out to me. First, my sister has a big birthday party for my nephew each year and she coordinates the entire menu with me so that my daughter can eat the food at the party.
Similarly, my mom coordinates our huge Thanksgiving dinner to be allergy-friendly, so she can eat anything she wants. It is awesome.
Lastly, we have great neighbors who stock allergy-friendly treats in their pantry for when we are over and always check labels with me if they are unsure.
12. What would you tell someone newly diagnosed?
I would tell people three things:
- It will get better. When we were first diagnosed I was shocked, sad and terribly scared. I still have those feelings from time-to-time, but over the last five years we have found ways to manage the allergies, and in some ways are healthier because of them. I am so proud of my daughter and the ownership she has taken over managing her allergies at such a young age.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up and request what you need. No one will advocate for your child like you. You are not being bossy, or overprotective, or crazy- you are taking steps to protect your child’s life.
- Find support in whatever form you can. Family, friends, a food allergy coach, support groups, online communities, they all can help. There will be stress and having support makes all the difference.
13. Anything you’d like to share with those not affected?
Yes! Support from non-allergic family members and friends is so key. Simply taking the time to become aware/educated means the world and could literally save a life.
“When I get a party invitation followed by a call from a parent about how to make the party safe for my daughter, it means more to me than they could ever imagine.”
Small things like checking labels, asking what will be safe, and taking steps to include rather than exclude are really not small things at all – they are HUGE and make a food allergy parent so grateful for the support and understanding!
14. Have you found any community in your daughter’s allergy thus far?
I immediately wanted to spread awareness and create support as I felt there was just not a lot out there, especially locally when we were first diagnosed. I got involved in the food allergy community and through volunteering with the FARE Walk, we have met so many great families and local businesses involved in food allergy support.
Through the walk I met a fellow food allergy mom; she and I have continued to support our local walk and started a support group to meet that need in our community – we have already connected with so many great people through the group. If you are not finding what you need start it – there are people out there they just need someone to connect them.
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- Thriving with Food Allergies – Gluten and Dairy (an Interview with Lisa G.) - June 17, 2015