This is Abraham. He is a four and ½-year old wild-and-wooly little boy. He likes monsters, chocolate and climbing on our heads! Abraham’s days are filled with all the fun things any little boy loves, and his constant medical issues are something normal for him. There are days when I feel like I am chasing him around all day—bugging him with nebulizer treatments, inhalers, nasal spray, “itchy” cream, oral medicines, allergy shots, endless appointments, etc.

He is a good sport for all of his medicines and appointments and the many restrictions on his daily routine. Abraham’s daily health is generally good—unless he catches even the smallest cold, hugs a classmate with a dog at home or has any contact with peanuts. These are his three biggest triggers. The smallest cold leads to bronchitis or pneumonia and weeks of battle-mode medical treatment at the house; the hug leads to hours of insane itching and wheezing only placated by putting him to sleep with a large dose of Hydroxizine. We can’t even think about going to anyone’s house with a dog—not even his grandparents.

The first two issues, inconvenient and sometimes painful as they are, are not the most frightening. The peanut menace is the one that causes me to lose sleep. We knew of Abraham’s peanut allergy from a very young age. His first contact was as an 8-month old baby. His grandfather was eating those orange crackers filled with peanut butter while holding Abraham. The result was large blistery bumps all over his little body in any spot where my dad’s fingers had touched the crackers and then touched him. With the severe allergy/asthma background my husband and I share, we understood what this meant and fully avoided all nut products (in addition to several other trigger foods and common allergic triggers). He had the allergy testing available for his young age, and we confirmed this and other triggers.

Skip forward a few years—and many, many symptoms, sicknesses, doctors’ appointments and prescription refills later. Although he had many uncomfortably symptoms with which to deal, we had an incident that demonstrated just how severe his peanut allergy was. At three years old, a baby sitter accidentally let Abraham have a bite of a peanut butter/chocolate chip granola bar. I happened to come home about 5 minutes later. The sitter did not tell me about the peanut butter, but Abraham immediately began to cry in pain and complain of stomach pain and a burning mouth. Then he began vomiting—intense vomiting that emptied every drop of his little stomach. He kept vomiting, and his face turned red and blotchy. I immediately gave him an antihistamine, and he was asleep within minutes of the whole incident. I mistakenly blamed his fatigue on the trauma of such violent vomiting. He kept sleeping—deep sleep interrupted only by more vomiting, crying and diarrhea. His sleep (and vomiting) lasted for hours and hours. Incorrectly, I assumed this fatigue was now a result of the antihistamine in his system.

About a year later, on Easter morning, Abraham had two bites of a giant chocolate bunny’s ears (the bunny was made in China and although it proclaimed to be nut-free it must have had contact with peanuts). He was on the sofa and my daughter and I were getting ready for Church. He began to cry and fuss, which is unlike him. He did not get sick right away, but was having a hard time staying awake. This didn’t make sense since he had only been up for an hour and a half that morning. I didn’t think much of it and blamed his fatigue on Easter morning anticipation. We headed out the door to Church with me carrying my then sleeping son. As we arrived at Church just 10 minutes later, Abraham was still very much out and up on my shoulder. He woke up—crying then screaming, his face contorted in obvious pain. I knew what was coming and realized he was having an allergic reaction. We barely reached the bathroom as he vomited. Again, his sickness was overwhelming. He was crying. He told me his mouth burned, and it was apparent that his whole body was reeling. The only thing keeping him somewhat conscious was his violent vomiting, severe and immediate diarrhea and all-over pain. When the sickness ended, he fell back asleep and remained that way for 4-1/2 hours. No antihistamine had been administered and yet he slept in this deep, deep state until evening. He would wake somewhat every ½ hour or so, whimpering, crying, and retching—only to return to his sedated state.

Although I knew of his severe allergy, which had been confirmed by more involved allergy testing at age 3, I did not understand how severe his reactions were. I was monitoring his breathing, which seemed fairly regular. This was my biggest concern, because I had thought his issue in an anaphylactic reaction would be asthmatic with obvious swelling that could prohibit breathing. It was not until after the fact that I realized he was not sleeping at all—nor had he been sleeping the time when his babysitter gave him a bite of tainted granola bar. What I mistakenly perceived as sleep was actually his plummeting blood pressure, and it was only by the Grace of God that Abraham did not slip into a coma that day.

We headed back to his allergist the next day and shared what had happened. Abraham was re-tested and we found that in just a year, his already high peanut allergy had doubled. We were instructed on EpiPen® usage and told that its administration might be needed to keep him alive in the event his blood pressure dropped again like it had on Easter. When asked when I should administer the EpiPen®, I heard the painful truth: “When you think he is going to die.” I ordered him a Medic Alert® bracelet, and we updated his pre-school and sitters on the growing severity of Abraham’s condition.

We know that inevitably this will come up again. We all know how to use the EpiPen®, and our 8-year old daughter is well-versed on what she needs to do in an emergency. My biggest concern is that we don’t know just how bad it will be the next time. What if it is much, much worse? What if his blood pressure drops and I cannot revive him? What if he is with someone who doesn’t recognize his symptoms—mistaking his anaphylaxis for a tummy ache and fatigue? What if I hesitate to administer his EpiPen®, and it is too late?

These are the worries I have, and this is what keeps me awake with anxiety. In the meantime, I’m trying to educate myself more to better understand what others face. I know there are many others with a greater amount of dangerous food triggers, and I see that I can learn from them. I do not want to be a hyper-vigilant, nervous mother for my son; and yet I do need to ensure his safety.

Brandy
Tallahassee, Florida

It was March 14, 2007. It was a typical Wednesday in my house. I’m a stay at home mother to two girls, a then 3 year old daughter and a then 10 month old daughter. It was lunch time so my older daughter wanted peanut butter and jelly. She asked to have it in the living room with her movie so I pulled out the old rug and told her she couldn’t take it off the rug. We already had an idea that my youngest Heidi was allergic to dairy so I put her in her walker so she couldn’t get to her sister’s lunch.

I made the sandwich and the baby wanted some so I thought well it’s only 2 months till she is a year so a tiny bit of peanut butter won’t hurt. I thought it would be funny to see how she dealt with the sticky so I grabbed my camera and gave her a touch – about the size of a half teaspoon. Meanwhile I went back to my room dumped some clothes on the bed and went back to her. I heard her coughing so I thought I’d better get her some soy milk. I poured her a cup of soy milk and she had already finished the peanut butter. She was still coughing a little but I thought it was due to how sticky the peanut butter was. I gave her a tiny bit more just a flick off my finger and began to clean up. That is when it all went downhill.

She kept coughing so I went over to her and noticed the bottom half of her jaw was white with hives. I thought Oh **. I grabbed the phone and called her doctor’s office. They told me to give her a teaspoon of Benadryl®, and that if she was not better in 15 minutes to get her to the hospital. So after talking with them I called my husband and told him what they had said. While talking to him she threw up the meds. I called my mother and asked her should I give her some more and she said “No, you don’t know how much she got, call the Doctor back.” In the process of this, time seemed to be flying – everything was just racing and going too fast. I told my mother “Mom it looks as if her face is growing.” My mother told me to leave the room and come back and look at her. When I did her whole face was swollen.

Her eyes were swollen shut and her bottom lip was hanging down to her jaw. She was screaming and coughing and crying and reaching for me. It’s the most heart breaking thing you will ever see. I told my Mom I was calling the doctor just as I said that she stopped breathing. Just silence. No crying, No sobbing to get her breath. I yelled at my Mom, “She just quit breathing!” and hung up on her. I dialed 911.

While I dialed she grasped for air. I was so relieved to hear her scream. I told the operator everything; she told me my daughter was having anaphylactic shock. She told me that the ambulance was on the way to stay on the line. By this time I was a nervous wreck. I had no clue what my other daughter was doing or thinking. I was holding my baby who could not see, or smell and she was hysterical. Just as I heard the sirens she went silent again. I thought, “Please baby don’t do this to me. Hold on.”

I held her and rubbed her arms and talked to her so she knew that she was not alone. She was red all over and had hives all over her face and chest. Her face was huge. Her bottom lip was just hanging there fat with drool dripping everywhere. You couldn’t see her big beautiful blue eyes. As the ambulance pulled up and the paramedics jumped out the medic rushed to me and I to him. He grabbed my baby and ran to the ambulance. I was right behind him when I heard the most awful thing. He said to his partner, “Get me an EpiPen® or we are going to lose this baby.”

You can never know how much you love your children till you are faced with the hard fact that you can lose them. When he gave her the EpiPen® she let out a scream. I thought, “thank you, thank you.” Sometime during all that I called her father and told him to get home; that the baby was having a severe allergic reaction to peanut butter. He wanted to ask how she got it, why she had it, and other things. I don’t remember all of the conversation with him.

In the ambulance they tried to get an IV in her but they could not get it in her tiny veins. It seemed as if we sat there forever while they tried to get the IV in her arms. My neighbors were all over talking to me and I had no clue what they were saying. It was then I realized that my baby was going to be OK. I had my first thought of where is my other child. That may sound horrible, but you lose track of time and everything.

My neighbor was holding my oldest. She brought her to the ambulance and set her down with me. I remember leaning over and squeezing her hand – her tiny hand – and telling her that sissy was going to be OK, that everything was OK now. She was so good. She wasn’t crying or anything – just real quiet and watching everyone. What a little trooper.

Finally we were off to the hospital. I told one of the neighbors that when dad got there to tell him what hospital we were heading to. The whole way to the hospital was horrible. Sirens blaring and my oldest being so well behaved sitting there and being calm. I told her she was great and that sissy was going to be fine now. The paramedics gave her some more Benadryl®
and still tried to get an IV in her. She was still beet red, and swollen.

When we arrived at the hospital, I finally could see her blue eyes again. They kept us for 4 hours to make sure that she would not have another reaction. I know they gave her some steroids but I don’t recall the name of them. They sent us home with a prescription for EpiPen®, Jr. We have to carry these with us all the time now and Benadryl®.

Afterwards is when things hit me. My husband was the worse. He blamed me. He was mad that I did not call him and tell him we were leaving with the ambulance. He did not see her pretty little face swollen or hear the horrible silences of her not breathing. I wish that I could have him tell you his side but he has nothing to do with her allergies. He knows that she has them and tries to keep an eye on her. But to be honest I would not trust him alone with her.

The hospital told us we needed to see an allergy specialist. I made the appointment for as soon as possible. I also asked my husband to take the day off and come with us. I wanted him to hear how serious this was. I was hoping that by a doctor telling him how life threatening this was that it would make him take it easier on me. He keeps telling me that I over react; that I’m too cautious.

Trust me there is never enough caution in your child’s life once you hear the fatal words that “we are going to lose this child.” We had my daughter checked and found out that she is severely allergic to dairy, eggs, and peanuts. On a scale of 1-4 she hit 4 + on those things. It is a struggle each day to keep food away from her, and also watch everything I eat. I’m still nursing.

My older daughter is 4 now and she is becoming very aware that her baby sister can’t have certain things. Some days she is very vigilant and watchful. Other days she is a typical 4 year old running wild and leaving cheese lying around or other things her sister can’t have. My husband still blames me. I think he always will. He doesn’t seem to understand why, when she is only 1 year old now, I worry about when she starts school; how will she make friends; what about the 30 minute bus ride home. He has no clue how hard holidays will be with her.

I admit I do baby her more than my oldest, but to me she is my special little girl I have to keep a closer eye on her. There are a lot of great sites out there and wonderful books also. I suggest that you read about it as much as possible. My child’s chance of out growing the milk and eggs allergy is pretty good the doctor says. Maybe by the time she starts school.

But as for her peanut allergy they say she has a 20% chance to outgrow it. The other bad thing is the bills the ambulance ride alone was not covered by her insurance and that cost my husband 600 dollars. That was just the ambulance. The hospital bill was in the thousands. I hope that this helps other parents, or at least lets others know that they are not alone out there. I know that I can’t wait to hear how others are dealing with their child’s allergies.

Kimberly
Lake Sherwood, Missouri

We first learned of our son, Devin’s, peanut allergy when he was 20 months old.  I had picked him up from the sitter’s house to find him with hives across the side of his face.  The sitter said that he had a bite of his older brother’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 12 noon and had thrown it up, but then had been fine. It was at 4 pm that I arrived. I immediately knew something was not right and drove him to the Emergency Room. They administered a double dose of Benadryl and an oral steroid and suggested he see an allergist for a peanut allergy.

At the allergist’s office they did a skin prick test and sure enough, on a scale of 0-4 he scored a 4+ for a severe allergy to peanuts. He also showed an allergy to almonds, cats, and dogs.

So, we got our EpiPens and put together a “medicine bag” that we also filled with
Benadryl and his inhaler (we were also trying to rule out asthma) and began carrying it wherever he went. We did some reading and considered ourselves educated.  That was until this past Monday when he was 22 months old.

This past Monday, our family went to visit my sister and her family. While looking for a snack in the pantry for my oldest, she noticed that Devin was chewing something and asked if I had given him anything. I said no and almost left it at that, figuring he just grabbed a piece of candy. But then I thought maybe it was a Starburst and he was eating it with the wrapper on (as he usually does!). So I figured I better go check. In my hand, he spit out a chewed up piece of food that I did not recognize. When I showed it to my sister, she said – “I think that’s a peanut” as she realized that there were peanuts on her bottom pantry shelf.

I decided to stay calm. He seemed alright. My husband said we should use the EpiPen right away, and I said no and decided to just give him a dose of Benadryl from the medicine bag and keep an eye on him… I mean his first reaction didn’t happen until a couple hours later and it was just mild hives right?

Well, about 10 minutes later he started to vomit pretty badly. We cleaned him up and settled him down.  He was sneezing a lot and had a runny nose. It STILL didn’t dawn on me what was happening. I didn’t know vomiting was a symptom of an allergic food reaction. I thought maybe the Benadryl upset his stomach, or maybe he was getting stuffed up from my sister’s cats (since he also has a cat allergy) and gagged on some mucous.  We decided to go home to give him a bath and clean up.

About 3 minutes into our ride home, he looked really sleepy and started closing his eyes, but then he started vomiting really bad again in his car seat.  But this time, he also started wheezing and coughing with a croupy sound.  I screamed at my husband to pull over and reached back to unbuckle him and pull him up into the front seat. We grabbed his inhaler from his medicine bag and gave him a puff to help with the wheezing (still did not use the EpiPen), which helped settle him down again.  My husband took charge and said “We’re going to the emergency room”.

So, we sped to the emergency room with the hazards on and me holding Devin in the front seat.  When we arrived at the Emergency Room the doctor asked if we had an EpiPen and had we used it.  I told him we did have one, but we hadn’t used it. Immediately, I knew that we should have.  So, they administered an Epi shot, oral steroids, Benadryl, and a breathing treatment.  He was fine within about 15 minutes.  They kept us there for an additional 2 hours to keep an eye on him and then we were discharged with a prescription for oral steroids for 5 days and a suggestion of Benadryl and his inhaler for 3 days.

What a night.  I learned ALOT!  The ER doc said that we should have given him the Epi shot right after we saw that he had a peanut. And from now on each exposure tends to have a worse reaction so I am scared silly of him getting a hold of any more peanuts. I don’t know why I was so scared and hesitant to give the EpiPen to him.  But I am trying not to beat myself up about it.  Needless to say, we are now taking the proper steps to get more educated so that we will be pros if this ever happens again.

Erin Dodds
Brunswick, Ohio

Abbie was 14 months when we learned that she had a peanut allergy.  She attends a daycare that is on site at the hospital where I work.  I normally work 8 hour days, but that day I had to come in on my day off for a meeting.  So, Abbie was only at daycare for a couple of hours.  After lunch, one of her care givers gave her a bite of her candy bar.  Her candy bar happened to be a “Pay Day”.  Abbie went down for her nap after that.  As I picked her up, I made a comment that her eye was really red.  The worker said that they noticed it also and that she had been rubbing her eye quite a bit.  I just assumed that she had pink eye.

I put her in the car and began my hour drive home.  During the first 15-20 minutes of the drive, she was very fidgety which was unlike her.  She began to cry, but her cry was not that of an unhappy baby, she seemed distressed or in pain.  I happened to be on the phone with my husband and he even noticed over the phone that she seemed very upset.  By 30 minutes into the drive she was screaming and pulling at her ears and was blotchy all over.  I knew at this point that something was not normal with her.  As I was getting close to my exit, she began to cough.  As each minute passed, her cough became more productive.  At 50 minutes into my drive, I could hear her wheezing from the back seat and her face was swollen.  I called my husband back and told him that I thought I needed to have her seen somewhere before we came home.  All of this time, I was unaware that she’d had anything out of the ordinary to eat.  As I was getting her out of the car to go into the doctor’s office, I noticed all of the hives and how badly she was swollen.  I decided to put her back in the car and go around the block to the Emergency Room.  Thank goodness I did!  I called the daycare and still no one knew she had eaten a bite of the candy bar.  I called her main care giver on her cell phone and that is how I knew what I was dealing with.  The ER was absolutely wonderful.  I was signed in, triaged, and in a room with a doctor in less than 10 minutes.  She got steroids, Benadryl, and a breathing treatment.  Thankfully, she cleared up within an hour or so.

We have seen the pediatric allergist and are also carrying around an EpiPen wherever we go.  I can only be thankful that this particular day I didn’t stay as normal.  I don’t know that she would have been noticed as quickly in a daycare setting.  It was very scary knowing that I was in between two cities for a hospital.  At the point I knew I had a problem, I was 30 minutes away in either direction!  God was certainly watching out for us that day.

Abbey

Susan Brumley
Owensboro, KY

On March 5, 2010 I did what I do every morning – woke up, and made my boys their breakfast.  4 year old Cody wanted his favorite – peanut butter and banana sandwich.  16 month old Luke got his favorite too – Cheerios.  Luke decided that he wanted what his brother was having though, and started throwing a tantrum wanting a bite.  I had been thinking about letting him try peanut butter recently since his older brother was 15 months when he first tried it, and he was becoming more and more interested in everything that everyone else was eating.  I took half of Cody’s sandwich and tore off a small piece.  Luke took two small bites – and pushed it away, wanting nothing to do with it.  I mentioned to my husband that the last time he did that he broke out in welts (he had reacted to a jar of baby food a month earlier, we still don’t know what caused the reaction as he tested negative to everything in it – in fact, we had been at the allergist for it the day before).  A minute later, he vomited twice.  I carried him back to his room to change him, and when I laid him on the changing table, he was rubbing one eye.  When he stopped I could see that the eyelid was swollen, and the entire eye area was covered in welts.  I looked at his belly and there were 2 welts on it.  I yelled for my husband to get the Benadryl, but when I tried to give it to Luke he spit about half of it out.

I called his doctor’s office, and they told me to give him 1/2 a tsp Benadryl and to watch for trouble breathing.  They also told me that the Benadryl would make him sleepy.  My husband left for work then, and I took Luke back to the living room to sit on the couch with me while I called my mom (who luckily was working from home that day).  About 20 minutes into our conversation Luke vomited twice again.  I was starting to worry, so I asked my mom to come over.  Once off the phone, I sat on the couch with him again, but this time he was acting strange.  He was very lethargic, kept falling asleep, but would thrash around like he was uncomfortable.  During all of this he was sneezing a lot, and his nose had become very congested, with mucus coming out when he sneezed.  I kept listening for trouble breathing, but never noticed anything other than the nose congestion.  Then I noticed that his coloring was becoming very pale.  His skin was completely white – and his lips were the same color as his skin.  I also noticed then that he had welts going from his chin down his neck.  I laid him down just as my mom was getting to the house, and unzipped his PJ’s to find that his entire torso, from chin down, was covered in angry red hives.  He looked like he had a horrible sunburn.

I called the doctor’s office again, and was told that I needed to call 911.  When the firemen got there they weren’t able to get an oxygen reading on him, they said because the monitor wouldn’t stay on his toe.  The ambulance came soon after, and were unable to get an oxygen reading either.  One EMT said that I could either have him taken to the ER, or to his doctor’s office, saying “a doctor is a doctor.”  The doctor’s office didn’t want him to come in, which at first irritated me, but now I am thankful that they didn’t.  We rode to the ER in the ambulance, and Luke was rather alert during the ride.  He did get sleepy towards the end, and the EMT worked hard to keep him awake.

Once we got to the ER we were put in a room immediately.  They were able to get an oxygen reading using a different device.  It took almost an hour to get an IV into him, but once they did, he was given steroids through the IV.  He was also given Albuterol using a nebulizer.  Watching them work on him in the ER was the scariest experience of my life.  They had an oxygen tube in his nose because his oxygen levels were low (they didn’t tell me at the time, but I later learned that his levels were in the 60′s – 95-100 is normal).  He hated it, and would occasionally hold his breath.  One of the nurses would blow lightly into his face when he did that to make him start breathing, but it scared me every time.  Obviously he’s too young to be able to tell me if he had any throat tightness or tingling, but he clawed at his throat several times, so I assume that something was going on.

After several hours in the ER he was moved to a room in pediatrics where he was hooked up to the IV, oxygen and another monitor until the next morning.  Thankfully all of his vitals in pediatrics were normal – they did a great job in the ER of getting him to that point.  He spent 24 hours total in the hospital, and they sent us home with a 3 day prescription of oral steroids.

Before all of this we had no clue that he would have an allergy to peanuts.  Our oldest son was a huge fan of peanut butter.  I was as well.  Neither my husband nor I know of any relatives that have peanut, or any other severe food allergy.  The day we came home from the hospital we cleaned anything out of our kitchen that had the word “nut” in it.  We’re avoiding all tree nuts as well, and anything that has any kind of possible cross contamination warning.  I’ve spent hours surfing the net looking for information and support in dealing with a severe allergy.  We didn’t have an EpiPen when this happened, but now we carry a double pack everywhere that Luke goes.

Melinda