When my son was 11 months old, it was confirmed that he had a peanut allergy. After two unintended peanut butter introductions that resulted in facial hives, I scheduled an appointment with the allergist, where we found out that indeed my son, Landon, had a peanut allergy. For the next few weeks, armed with his EpiPen kit and this new acceptance of maintaining a Skippy-free household, life carried on in a rather normal rhythm. Naturally, I alerted family and friends about his allergy, informed everyone of the protocol for what to do in case of ingestion, and I was transitioning into my new reality of scouring labels for the word “peanut” with ease.
The reality of Landon’s allergy being a life or death matter didn’t fully absorb in me until one Friday afternoon when I was driving in the back of an ambulance to the ER with him after he had eaten some peanut butter sandwich crackers. It was a fun Friday afternoon meet-up for our playgroup at a local park and my 13-month-old son grabbed crackers from his buddy’s snack bag and started eating them. I watched this happen and even asked my friend if it was okay for my son to have some of her son’s crackers. She said ”Sure!” Then, within about 45 seconds my friend gasped, grabbed my arm, and exclaimed, “Kathryn there’s peanut butter on those crackers!”
The next few hours of my life are etched in my memory with perfect freeze-frame recall. I turned to my son and could see that he already had a few tiny red hives forming around his mouth. Trying to not panic, I let a minute go by and I noticed a few more hives. I realized it was time to wrap it up and get out of there! I assured my friend it was nothing for her to be concerned about (it was certainly not her fault) and I grabbed Landon and shuffled off to my car. After getting him in his car seat, I could see the hives on his face getting bigger and his breathing was now becoming labored. PANIC TIME!
With being only three blocks from my parents house, I called them and told them I was rushing over. While driving, I tore open a Benadryl spoonful and had my son drink it. Arriving at my parents within moments, I was trying my best to stay calm as my son was wide eyed and alert to my every move. Sitting in my parents living room, my mom assured me that I needed to follow the three-step protocol I was supposed to do for Landon upon an allergic reaction: Benadryl, EpiPen, 911. I held my son close as my dad administered the EpiPen in his thigh and my mom called 911. I was trying to not panic and cry, as my son was crying his eyes out now.
Within moments, the fire department and paramedics arrived, and everyone gathered in my parents living room as one of the firefighter helped console my son and a paramedic administer a few tests. Since my son was injected with the EpiPen, it was required for him to go to the ER. In that moment, I thought that was a bit extreme because my son was actually doing much better. But the paramedic assured me that while the epinephrine from the EpiPen was indeed helping my son, it could wear off and he may need a breathing treatment at the hospital. (Which is exactly what happened). After the excitement of the moment cleared and my son calmed down (and my mom was able to snap a few photos…don’t get me started), he and I drove to the hospital in the back of an ambulance where we remained for a few hours of observation and a breathing treatment.
While I would love to tell you that was our only ambulance ride to the hospital due to peanut ingestion, it was actually the first of two ambulance rides in the past two years. I will never forget how it felt to hold my son’s hand as he sat in his car seat strapped to a gurney in the back of the ambulance. And I will never forget the vow I made with myself that I would do whatever it took to keep him safe, even if it meant being that mom.
I know I am not alone in the allergy-kid world right now. In fact, children are being born with and developing food allergies at an alarming rate (that is another blog post in and of itself). Here are a few things I do to safeguard my son and help him live a normal and inclusive life. Perhaps these things may be helpful for you too.
Three Things I Do to Safeguard My Son:
1. The EpiPen kit goes where he goes.
I put together an EpiPen kit that goes anywhere and everywhere my son goes. Included in the kit is Benadryl, an EpiPen Junior, a copy of his medical records card, and a laminated card that has instructions and contact information for me, his dad, and his allergist. That way, whoever has my son in their care has his life saving EpiPen kit too. I also made a duplicate kit for his school.
2. Never assume anyone knows what to do in case of an emergency.
Educating everyone in my son’s world about his peanut allergy was step #1. Step #2 was actually sitting down and showing people how to administer the EpiPen. Even when I encounter know-it-all personalities, I don’t back down and I don’t cut the lesson short. Why? Because while some people may have been taught how to administer an EpiPen, they most likely have never actually administered one. Also, the new EpiPen Juniors are spring loaded, which is quick, and without a firm hold on the EpiPen upon administering it, the entire unit can ricochet out of your hand…I know this because that is what happened prior to ambulance ride #2 early this year. When your child’s life is dependent upon people being educated on emergency protocol, it is paramount that you make sure that anyone who cares for your child knows what to do.
3. I advocate for my son, and I teach him to advocate for himself.
I don’t want my son to sit at a lunch table all by himself, or have to eat in the school office because he is only kid in his class who has a peanut allergy. I don’t want my son to feel less than anyone or disadvantaged because he has a peanut allergy. But I also need to make sure that he is safe and that the other children, parents, caregivers, and school staff are well informed about his allergy. I have taken a partnership approach with his school, and as a result, I have a fabulous relationship with his teachers and administrators, and they always get excited to share new things with me. Furthermore, I have been teaching and empowering my son about his peanut allergy. When offered food, he asks to make sure it does not have peanuts or made on shared equipment as peanuts. I have not infused my son with fear, instead I have empowered him to use his voice to ask questions, and make important choices for himself. With encouragement and appropriate praise, he is shining and doesn’t feel left out, but rather his allergy is a normal part of his life.
If you have a child with any type of allergy, I encourage you to check out the AllergyKids Foundation. A friend of mine told me about the AllergyKids blog soon after my son’s peanut allergy was discovered, and I have found their website to be helpful and informative. AllergyKids is founded is Robyn O’Brien, a mom on a mission to change our countries food supply, and she is certainly inspiring change every step of the way. As life would have it, my son’s peanut allergy was the inspiration that led me to start NaturalKidz.com.