Our daughter Samantha is 11 years old and severely allergic to a long list of foods: peanuts, nuts, eggs, soy, shellfish, chickpeas, garlic, lentils, green peas, peaches, pumpkin seeds and chestnuts. She also was diagnosed at the age of 7 with celiac disease, and she is lactose intolerant. Food isn’t her only issue: Samantha has asthma and is allergic to many pollens and animal dander (dogs, cats, rabbits and horses). Plus, she has eczema.
It’s a lot to manage, but Samantha usually does it extremely well. She truly is an amazing girl – an “A” student and a competitive soccer player, who doesn’t let the challenges of these conditions hold her back.
With the numerous food allergies and celiac disease, we are, of course, extremely limited in the choice of foods we can purchase for her. Unfortunately a lot of gluten-free products on the market contain her allergens, so they are off-limits. Samantha’s diet consists mainly of whole foods, and we prepare most of her meals and snacks – to ensure that there is no cross-contamination with gluten or her allergens. It is the norm for our family to carry along food no matter where we go.
We have always educated Samantha, family, friends and her school on the severity of her allergies. We have shown them how to use the epinephrine auto-injector, and we taught Samantha to read food label ingredients from a very young age. She is a bright girl and has had to grow up much faster, given her circumstances.
We’re also most fortunate to have the medical support of Dr. Susan Waserman, our daughter’s allergist, and her nurse, Jan Falcone. The care they provide has been outstanding, and we honestly don’t know what we would have done without them.
Yet even for the most well-prepared allergy family, a mistake can happen. On September 16, 2013, Samantha was with a group of her best friends and had walked to the corner store. She purchased a candy called Laffy Taffy and unfortunately made the uncharacteristic error of not reading the ingredients.
As well, she forgot her EpiPen at her friend’s house, which was about 10 minutes away. She began to eat the candy once they left the store and noticed shortly after that her voice began to change. She had difficulty speaking and her throat became very dry.
She immediately wanted to get back to her friend’s house to get a glass of water. That friend thought to read the ingredients on the candy wrapper and told her that the candy contained egg.
Samantha realized that she needed her epinephrine medication right away, as she is severely allergic to egg. When they arrived at her friend’s house, our brave daughter chose to administer the auto-injector herself despite the fact that there was a parent offering to administer it for her.
Shortly after, Samantha phoned me to explain what had happened and that she had given herself the EpiPen.
Her first question was: “Mommy, are you mad at me?”
I said, “Of course not! If anything, I am so proud of you for administering the auto-injector yourself.”
Samantha was not, however, out of the woods yet. Upon arriving at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton (Canada) by ambulance, hives emerged all over her stomach and back. She became very itchy and began developing severe stomach pain followed by vomiting. The medical staff started an IV and administered several drugs, including anti-inflammatories, anti-spasmodic and anti-nausea drugs. It took several hours to stop this frightening reaction, and Samantha was then on prednisone for four days.
As a family, we learned several things from this experience. First, of course, is that we cannot stress enough how important it is to always read labels and act quickly to call 911 once an epinephrine auto-injector has been administered.
Even after epinephrine has been given, emergency medical care is required immediately because severely allergic individuals may continue to experience symptoms of anaphylaxis. They may need emergency respiratory or cardiac care, or even to be resuscitated – in case where the breathing stops altogether.
But as harrowing as that day was for our family, as parents, we are also proud of what we learned about our daughter. Samantha, at such a young age, had the courage to administer her auto-injector on her own. Yes she made an error (one she’s not likely to forget soon), but more importantly, our brave girl didn’t hesitate to take charge and to act to give a needle to herself to protect her own life.
The years of educating her have obviously paid off, and we hope other families with allergic children will appreciate from our experience, the crucial importance of that continuing and lengthy learning process.
Charmaine and Elio Posteraro live in Hamilton, Ontario.
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