Race Driver Unveils Allergy Winners, Tells of Own Severe Reaction

in Food Allergy
Published: August 29, 2014
Tagliani and the race car design contest winner, Leah Johnson, at the unveiling.

The winners of the Summer of TAG awareness contest had the chance to meet NASCAR and IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani and will see their own awareness-based designs come to life on his official EpiPen race car and helmet.

The Summer of TAG is a campaign launched by Alex Tagliani and Pfizer Canada (the Canadian distributors of the EpiPen) to raise funds for Anaphylaxis Canada and increase anaphylaxis awareness. As part of the campaign, students across the country were invited to submit their own custom, awareness-based designs for Tagliani’s car and helmet.

The winners, Marcus Uhrich of Alberta and Leah Johnson of Ontario, were invited to the unveiling of the winning designs and to meet Tagliani. They will receive tickets to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Race in Bowmanville, Ontario, where their designs will be seen in action. Before the race, the winners will also get the chance to have some one-on-one time with Alex.

The winning helmet design – “Don’t Give Allergies a Head Start!”

Tagliani is no stranger to anaphylaxis. He was diagnosed with food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts at a very young age, and had to grow up with severe allergies at a time when the awareness level was just a shadow of what it is today.

“In my school I felt like I was by myself, I didn’t really know a lot of people that had an allergy at the time,” says the seasoned driver. “People weren’t as sensitive to food allergies as they are today.”

“It’s a growing health issue, which forces people to be more aware of it,” he notes. “The problem now is, your environment is much safer, you might go around and not have a reaction for two or three years, and all of a sudden you get too comfortable with your allergies and you forget to take your EpiPen. And now you’re starting to become reckless.”

Tagliani knows all too well that mistakes can be made. He once forgot his EpiPen in a car while at a restaurant, and he inadvertently ate something containing almonds.

“I ran to the car – first mistake, because I ran out of breath since my throat was closing – and when I got to the car I panicked, because I was getting light-headed, so instead of injecting myself there in the parking lot, I ran back – second mistake, now I’m even more out of breath.

“By the time I reach the entrance of the restaurant, I know that if I don’t inject myself now, I’m not going to stay awake for very long. So I screamed to call 911, I dropped my pants and I shot myself in the leg. I didn’t have to do that – I could’ve injected through the pants. But I tell you this: when you are having an anaphylactic reaction, you’re not too smart; you’re not thinking the same way. You’re panicky.”

That’s why Tagliani is committed to spreading awareness. Someone who’s never had anaphylaxis before doesn’t know what it’s like, so they won’t know what to expect – which makes being prepared all the more important.

“It’s tough to replicate what a reaction causes, and how you will behave. So we have to be ahead of the game,” he says.