We discovered my son Sean had food allergies when he was in daycare. His teacher was eating a snack of crackers with peanut butter and the kids reached for it – more specifically, Sean got a hold of it. When he started reacting, his teacher picked him up and literally ran to the closest fire station with my son in her arms. The first responders there rushed Sean to the hospital where he was treated, avoiding full anaphylaxis. It was horrifying.
After this incident, we took him for testing. In the allergist’s office, our 18-month-old had his first full anaphylaxis event from a skin test on his back. He was diagnosed with severe allergies to peanut, all tree nuts, and eggs.
Though daycare was a difficult experience, one good thing that came out of it was that Sean met Corinne. They were fast friends and loved playing with one another. We even moved to a new daycare to keep Sean and Corinne together.
When they were 2 years old, they went on a field trip to the museum where my husband works. My husband was present during their picnic lunch and while Corinne did eat a peanut butter cookie, her mom took her to wash her hands as she knew how allergic Sean was. On the ride back to daycare, Sean and Corinne held hands and sadly, Sean went into full anaphylaxis. It was terrifying for everyone involved, especially Corinne, who was thinking she almost killed Sean.
As he grew up, Sean was diagnosed with more allergies including shellfish, soy, and sesame. Now 16, he has tested positive for more than 130 allergies including some as uncommon as an allergy to benzyl alcohol – found in food and personal care products – which burns his skin on contact.
Over the years, Sean and Corinne went to different schools but stayed in touch with each other on social media. Initially we homeschooled Sean, but after Chinese herbal formulas from Dr. Xiu-Min Li helped him to gain better control his asthma and allergies, he moved to a small charter high school.
At his new school, he was excited to attend his Homecoming Dance but wasn’t sure who to ask. Sean decided to ask Corinne, saying that if their “first date” was to a museum 14 years ago, this could be their second official date.
The teachers are aware of Sean’s allergies, so I knew he would be safe at the dance. However, before the dance, the two teens wanted to go to dinner and that had to be planned out. Despite Sean’s shellfish allergy, one of our local seafood restaurants, Shuckers Oyster Bar in Wake Forest, North Carolina, has been one of the best places to accommodate his allergies. The day before the dance, I went by to talk with the manager who would be on duty during their date, and we went through the menu and Sean’s allergens. She made notes for the chef and highlighted five entrees that could be prepared safely for Sean.
Ensuring Sean’s safety was the easy part as we had eaten at that restaurant before and trusted the staff. Corinne, on the other hand, faced far greater challenges in her personal prep for their date.
A couple days before the dance, I began to receive texts from Corinne’s mom asking about what products Corinne could use. Should she avoid certain allergens the day before their date? Were products that contained cocoa butter safe? What about coconut oil?
It’s normal for a teenage girl to get nervous before a date, but Corinne had bigger concerns than just finding the perfect dress. “I was worried when I was getting ready because even though I keep looking through the list of things to avoid in my makeup, lotions and hair products, I knew it was easy for me to miss something,” she said.
Her mother sent her a text reminding about a slice of chocolate chip cake she had eaten the previous day and warning her not to kiss Sean just in case he might react to any residue. And Corinne was ready to take all the precautions necessary. “I’ve heard the story of how I sent Sean to the ER when we were little a million times, and I didn’t want that to ever happen again,” she said. “Small things other people take for granted can be deadly for Sean.”
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