When Kyle Dine graduated from business school nine years ago, he went a decidedly different route from his peers. Rather than get an office job, Dine, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, egg, fish, shellfish and mustard, took a position as a janitor in a local hospital and saved enough money to put out a CD, called “You must be Nuts”, with songs geared towards kids with food allergies.
His gamble paid off, and today Dine is a rock star of the allergy world, delighting allergic children by singing about the daily issues they face, and touring schools to educate their peers. Dine, who plays guitar, sings and uses puppets to convey messages about allergy safety, is also a consultant with Anaphylaxis Canada and owns a business that provides allergy cards for travelers, called Allergytranslation.com.
At Allergic Living, we are most pleased to show our appreciation of Dine by making him our latest Allergy Advocate series honoree. We salute him for using his talent, brains and energy to excite and empower the allergy generation. Dine recently took some time out of his spring tour to speak with senior contributor Claire Gagné about kids with allergies, his new DVD and why he loves his unconventional career.
How much time do you spend traveling and doing shows?
Last year, I did a total of 120 days of shows, so it was very busy. I typically do three months in the fall and three months in the spring where I’m performing pretty much every day, doing my educational assemblies during the week and, often, going to food allergy support groups or performing at public concerts or fundraising events on the weekend.
What is it like when you’re at a school?
There’s a lot of excitement. When the students walk into the gym they see a guitar, banners and all of my puppets on the stage. For them, it looks like their day is going to get a lot brighter. The teachers and the administration are usually very welcoming. It really says a lot about a school when they bring in an outside educator to do a presentation about allergy awareness. From their standpoint, they’ve already put in a lot of policies and now it’s time to get the students on board.
How do the schools find out about you?
It has really grown organically since I started this in 2007. When I go into a school in a certain area of the country, word starts to spread. I hand out brochures to the teachers at that school and they want the assembly at their kids’ schools. People also find me through social media.
At first, the only identifier would be some type of carrying case on them or a MedicAlert bracelet. But as I’m performing I’ll, for example, hold up an EpiPen or the Auvi-Q [Allerject in Canada] and ask if anybody what it is. You see the kids who are real experts, listing off all the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and giving really detailed answers. It gives them the opportunity to be confident in front of all their peers and share their knowledge.
When you have the chance to speak with young kids who have food allergies, what do they tell you?
I always ask them what they’re allergic to and we talk about what they do to stay safe, and I give them big kudos if they’re wearing their epinephrine on them. Sometimes they ask me questions like, “Will I ever get rid of allergies?” You can see they’re really affected by them.
I try to empathize and say something like, “it’s not always easy and food allergies are a challenge, but they’re not the worst thing in life. You can grow up and be anything you want.”
What drives you to tour and educate in schools and support groups?
It’s a dream job. It’s a lot of fun. I absolutely love traveling and I love kids. But I think the thing that drives me to keep going is the fact that I can only imagine how it would have affected me if there was someone like me when I was a kid.
What was sorely missing when I was growing up was anyone telling me that it’s OK to have food allergies. I remember not wanting to be associated with my allergies and not always disclosing them, and not always having my medicine with me. I just think what kind of difference it would have made to have a role model saying, “You’re doing a great job. Keep it up.” I think it would have decreased the number of allergic reactions that I had.
What kind of feedback do you get from kids who don’t have food allergies? Do you get a chance to speak with them when you’re at the school?
The more that I am with kids, the more I realize they really just want to keep their friends safe. When I ask them, “Put up your hand if you know someone with a food allergy,” all hands go up, compared to a room of adults that will say, “I never knew anybody with a food allergy.” The food allergy phenomenon is affecting this generation.
You have a food allergy awareness DVD coming out in June. Can you tell me about it?
This has been a dream project of mine for a couple of years. I’ve gotten to the point where I get more school requests than I can realistically fulfill in a year and I really wanted to make a DVD that could get into more schools, and also to get into some low-income schools that can’t afford to bring in outside assemblies.
I raised money on Kickstarter last fall, which was a really fun process that brought the whole allergy community together on a project. I filmed it in March in Chicago and now it’s in the editing phase. It covers everything from what allergies are to symptoms to epinephrine to inclusion and respect. It’s really this comprehensive 35-minute “just-press-play” resource that schools can use.
Back in 2007 did you imagine this would be your job that you’d still be doing this many years later?
No. I wasn’t sure if it would sell one copy or two or more. My first show was at my mom’s school, where she was the principal, and then it just spread from school to school in my hometown of Kingston, Ontario to Toronto and then it just went from there. Never in my wildest dreams would I think that one classroom workshop with one CD full of children’s songs growing into something where I spent so much time doing it. But it’s something I’m really proud of and I really love doing it.
Do you expect to continue doing it?
I really hope that we find a cure soon and that I’m out of a job, to be honest.
What other types of things do you do when you’re not doing your allergy-related work?
I love playing guitar and hanging out with friends. I play hockey, I love camping and traveling. I travel a lot all across the world. I enjoy the challenge of going to all these new places with my food allergies and making it work.
During my shows, I tell the kids that I love doing all those things – that I’m not just one bundle of allergies. I’m a normal dude who can do anything.
To learn more about Kyle’s shows or to purchase one of his CDs, visit Kyledine.com.
2015 Honorees in The Allergy Advocates Series:
2014 Honorees in The Allergy Advocates Series:
Lisa Rutter: A Force of Good for Food Allergy
Karen Harris: Food Allergy’s Educating Dynamo
Cathy Owens: The Nurse Who Is the Allergic Student’s Protector
Jenny Sprague: Courageous Woman who Unites Allergy Bloggers
Gina Mennett Lee: A Voice of Reason for Food Allergy at School and Daycare
Lianne Mandelbaum: A Force of Nature for Safe Travel with Allergies
Anne Russell: A Nurse Driven to Improve Food Allergy Education
Dr. Brian Vickery, Allergy Explorer Honoree: The MD Who’s Training Baby’s Immune System Not to Be Allergic