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My eldest son Max, now 18, had his first anaphylactic incident at 14 months of age.  My friend had gone strawberry picking and had given me a jar of her homemade jelly.  My other two daughters were 5 and 3 at the time, and ate peanut butter all the time (Max was always coughing and had a runny nose…we notice this now looking back at old videos).

We were at our pool in the back, and he ate a bite of a tiny peanut butter & jelly sandwich.  It was his first ingestion.  His big blue eyes began to water. Mistakenly I thought from the sun.  Then his nose started to run, and then mucus began pouring out of every orifice. I raced him to the Emergency Room.  They told me he was allergic to peanuts. I had never heard of that allergy, and blamed the strawberry jelly. Upon allergy testing we found he was also allergic to tree nuts and legumes.

Like other moms, we went through a tough time when he was young, with his first hospitalization and asthmatic pneumonia. The following year the RSV virus also hospitalized.  From then on, colds were the enemy, as well as allergens.

Before entering kindergarten, a friend and her son came over and they had eaten peanuts.  She kissed Max on the cheek, and when he came out of his room he was covered in welts, with the area she kissed him being a huge angry strawberry.  We knew then that if anyone ate peanuts they couldn’t touch him without washing, and our home became nut free.

A few years later, in second grade, I bought him a mislabeled cookie, wrapped from the supermarket bakery section. I didn’t know bakery goods, even wrapped and labeled were a no-no because of the potential for cross contamination.  When we got home, he took one bite and threw his dinosaur cookie in the garbage.

I was doing the dishes and he asked me what would happen if he ate peanut by mistake?  Would he need the EpiPen?  I started to answer him and then faced him in alarm.  He told me that his gut hurt, although he had no hives or wheezing and that he thought he needed his EpiPen.  That is the feeling of ‘doom’ that you hear about. It must be an innate sense of your body going into shock.  I gave him the EpiPen and drove him to the ER. I now know the ambulance is better!

At the hospital the doctor held him for observation, treated him with a shot of steroids and told me that although the cookie was labeled, it must’ve been an issue of cross contamination.  He was released several hours later and put on steroids for the week.

The next day I called the grocery store, and when they checked in the back, they apologized saying that the wrong label had been affixed to the dinosaur cookies, they actually contained peanut flour!

When he was 14 he was attending our church youth group.  The food leader checked with me on the ingredients for the dinner.  At that point, Max was not allergic to soy.  It was a spaghetti dinner with garlic bread with a lot of soy in the margarine used on the bread.

I must’ve had my mother’s instincts, as I arrived to pick him up a half hour early.  Max got in the car, and said his stomach hurt.  He didn’t look right.  I asked why he didn’t call, and he shrugged saying he had just started to feel bad.  We took him to the ER and learned he had developed a soy allergy. When we had him tested a few weeks later, he tested as off-the charts allergic to soy (a legume).


About the same time, tuna, one of his favorite sandwiches started giving him an itchy throat.  During puberty your body chemistry changes, and both his allergist and pulmonologist said that his allergies and asthma may lessen.  This wasn’t the case.  Max’s asthma has been chronic and moderate to severe requiring daily maintenance medications.  His allergies worsened, and he picked up the soy allergy, a tuna allergy, as well as salmon and shellfish.

When he was 14, he was at home babysitting for us.  He loved crab. He ate with regularity the canned crabmeat as well as the tuna. We still weren’t aware of the fish allergies.  We got a call from his sister, then 16, who had been dropped home to find her brother Max with vomiting and diarrhea.  I asked what he ate.  His reply, “crabmeat mom.”  I dialed 911 as we raced home from the mall.

My daughter called to say that the cop who got there first wouldn’t give Max an EpiPen and that she had to administer it herself. He said he wasn’t authorized to do so. When she gave him the shot, the first EpiPen went off in her finger.  She was crying. She used the second EpiPen and was successful.  When my husband and I arrived home, the ambulance was just getting there 30 minutes later!

They started to assess Max, but there was no paramedic. I screamed, “just drive him to the hospital!” I was frantic!  My husband was in one ER room with our daughter who was being treated for the EpiPen in her finger. I was with Max who was hooked up to every IV and machine going for anaphylaxis.  After 12 hours, he was released and recovered at home for the next several days.  He was very depressed and said that if he came up with any more food allergies he would kill himself.  We got through it.  Puberty ended, and fortunately he hasn’t come up with any more food allergies.

At 18, he is now a freshman in college, eating and living safely at his college.

He is a gifted artist and plans to contribute to allergy and asthma research to help find a cure for allergies as an adult.

New Jersey