Monday, September 22, 2014

Presenting Food Allergy Information to Teachers

By Kelley Lindberg

My son just entered high school this year. Talk about big changes for him – new responsibilities, new friends, new social events, new teachers, new principal… the list goes on and on.

There’s been a big change for me, too. My safety net of familiar teachers and administration has vanished. I have to start my “educating the educators” efforts all over again, with teachers who don’t already have an attachment to my son and who may not have had allergic kids in their classroom before (since he’s old enough that we always seem to be paving the way).

Fortunately, when I asked the vice principal if he thought I could present food allergy information to all the teachers at a staff meeting, he said it sounded like a good idea. He asked the principal, who also said it was a good idea. So last week, I found myself in front of about 25 teachers, trying to accomplish three things:
  1. Educate them about food allergies and how to keep all allergic kids (not just my son) safe.
  2. Keep from embarrassing my son.
  3. Keep them from thinking I am going to be one of those “trouble-making mothers.”

I think it worked. Even though I’ve given this presentation nearly every year to my son’s school, other schools, and even other organizations, I was still incredibly nervous. It’s nerve-wracking knowing that you could, with a single slip-up, sour your son’s teachers on him. Or worse, upset his burgeoning social life. But I was able to keep a sense of humor, answer a lot of questions, hopefully reassure them that they can handle a reaction if it happens, and get them thinking about ways to prevent contamination in their classrooms. Not only will this help my son, but it will lay groundwork for the growing number of allergy kids that will be coming along in the next few years.

As scary as it is, I highly recommend asking your school’s principal if you can “educate the educators” about food allergies, too. To help you out, here is a link to the handout I give to all the teachers and staff: School Staff Presentation. I just go over what’s on this handout, then answer any questions (there are always a lot!). Good luck. Just channel your mama bear (or papa bear), know that you’re helping your child as well as many other children, and feel the love from all the rest of us mama/papa bears out here in allergy-land!

Monday, September 8, 2014

New Food Allergy Treatment on the Horizon?

By Kelley Lindberg

Dr. Fred Finkelman
(photo courtesy of FARE)
FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) is reporting today that they’re awarding a $734,986 research grant to leading immunologist Fred Finkelman, M.D., at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine/Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in his efforts to suppress anaphylaxis. Dr. Finkelman is developing a therapy that may be able to desensitize a patient to ALL of their food allergies at the same time, and potentially in as short a time period as 24 hours.

With this therapy, a patient would probably be injected with a unique antibody that Finkelman and his team have developed in their lab. The antibody would then target mast cells and remove the IgE and IgE receptors on those mast cells, which are responsible for releasing the chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction. In a previous study, Dr. Finkelman injected mice with this antibody, and the treatment prevented anaphylaxis.

In plain English, this means that after being injected with this new antibody, the patient’s body will stop reacting to food allergens!

Right now, Dr. Finkelman and his team are still working with mice, so human trials are still years away. And their therapy in mice has taken weeks to build up a resistance, so they are hoping to shorten that timeframe significantly with their future study. Dr. Finkelman emphasizes that his process would not cure allergies, but would suppress allergies. He believes it has the potential to suppress food allergies, skin allergies, and even asthma and environmental allergies (hay fever). But this is the type of therapy that so many of us are desperately hoping for, so I am thrilled and grateful to FARE for supporting Dr. Finkelman’s research with this significant grant.

To read more about this grant and Dr. Finkelman’s work, check out these links:

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Food-Allergy Mom Speaks Out About Back-To-School

By Kelley Lindberg

This FaceBook post from Vivian Fulton appeared today, and it was so heartfelt I knew I had to share it. As we’re all getting ready to send our kids to school (some for the first time), it’s a great time to remind everyone – even those without food allergies – that simple kindnesses are not only kind, but they can save a life. Thank you for giving us permission to share your story, Vivian. Good luck, and fingers crossed for the new school year.
This is a message that I'm sharing on my facebook page:
Have you ever watched your child dying in the backseat? I have. I have watched David's breathing and his heart slow down significantly. I have known that if I didn't get to the ER in time, that he would be dead. Completely, irreversibly, dead. Do you know what did it? An accidental bite of Cheetos in nursery. David has been to the Emergency Room several times in his short 5 years of life. Every time because of food that 'normal' people eat everyday. Peanuts and milk products can kill my sweet David. Even if he does not eat them, he can still have a reaction.
Have you ever gotten into poison ivy? Imagine your skin itching and burning all over with great big hives. That is what can happen to David if he comes into contact with his food allergies, by touching a pair of scissors or a desk, crayon, door knob, etc. that another child has touched who has eaten peanut or milk products and who hasn't washed their hands or used a wipe to wipe down their hands/face & any contaminated surfaces. He can also go into anaphylactic shock if he touches these things. Anaphylactic shock is what I mentioned above when your body stops functioning and you can die without prompt & proper medical attention. Sometimes, even with medical attention your body can't get better and you die.
Do you want to know what you can do to help children like my David stay safe? Ask your child's teacher what food allergies children who meet in your child's classroom have, not only for their class, but for any other class that might meet in their classroom--both morning & afternoon classes like preschool & kindergarten. Commit right then and there that you will not send your child to class with these foods as snacks or treats. Tell your child's teacher your decision. Also, make sure your child's hands are clean when they arrive at school. Peanut butter or milk from 2 hours ago at breakfast without washing up afterwards is still on their skin or clothes and can still cause an allergic reaction. Inform your friends via social media and/or your blog about your commitment to doing your part to insure that no child will have to go through the pain and sheer terror of having his body stop working.
Thank you for reading. You are more than welcome to share this post. The safety of innocent children rests in you. You can be a powerful advocate for change and safety.
---Hopefully, some of my non food allergies friends will be more compassionate and become advocates for people with food allergies. I'm off to allergist today. Wish us luck!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Back to School Tips for Food Allergies 2014

by Kelley Lindberg

School is just around the corner, which means now is a great time to prepare your food-allergic kidlets for a safe and fun year. Although it may seem scary, it’s entirely possible to help your child have a good experience in a school environment. It requires some preparation, good communication with your school administrators and teachers, a positive “we’re all on the same side” approach, and some commitment to go that extra mile for safety, but it can be done. My son and his best friend (also allergic) have successfully navigated their K – 9th grade years at a wonderful charter school where the administration and teachers welcomed us. Sure, we had a few bumps along the road, but overall, the journey was successful and both made it through all 10 years without a major reaction at school. Awesome, right? Now they’re starting high school (yikes) at separate schools (double yikes), so we’ll keep our fingers crossed. But at least we know how far we’ve already come, so that’s good news.

About this time every year I post my back-to-school tips. So I’ll repeat them here, in the hopes that they help smooth the way for other parents over the next few weeks. Good luck, and enjoy these remaining few weeks of summer!

(Remember, there are links to several school-related resources on the Utah Food Allergy Network's website, so be sure to check those out. And last week I posted my Back-To-School Food Allergy Shopping List, so you might want to look at that, as well.)
  1. Ask the principal if there are other food-allergic kids in the same grade, and if they can be assigned to the same teacher. That makes it easier for the parents of the allergic kids to trade off field-trip and party chaperone duties, reminds the teacher to keep the classroom allergen-free for multiple kids, and gives you some backup in food issues. (It's nice to NOT be the only one.) Statistically, about one in twenty kids has a food allergy, so chances are good there will be several food-allergic kids in your school.
  2. Make several copies of your Food Allergy Action Plan (available on FARE’s website) and ask to hang one in the office, the cafeteria kitchen, and the classroom, so that your child's photo and "What to do in case of a reaction" instructions are handy no matter where he is.
  3. Practice with your child what he should do if he "feels funny." Role-play and pretend you're the teacher, and have him come up and tell you what's wrong. Often our kids are too shy about asking for help, so have him practice with you, and with the teacher if possible. Not only does that give your child words to use if something happens, but it helps impress upon the teacher how important it is. If he or she has a friend in class that can help, ask them to role-play, too. Our boys have a friend who was very vocal in supporting and helping speak up for them when they were shy. (Girls are especially awesome as allies!)
  4. I get on my principal's staff meeting agenda at the first of the year and give a 15-minute talk about allergies and demonstrate the EpiPen or Auvi-Q. When my son was in elementary school, I also gave a presentation to my son's class and all the teachers and aides he comes into contact with. If you're not comfortable doing this, ask if there are other allergic parents that you can contact. Talk to them about ways to teach the teachers -- maybe another mom would be willing to give the presentation if you make the photocopies. It's easier when there are two of you involved! There are also DVDs made for elementary school presentations, so you can let the DVD do the talking! “Binky Goes Nuts” is an Arthur cartoon from PBS. “Alexander the Elephant Who Couldn’t Eat Peanuts Goes to School” used to be available from FAAN before they became FARE, but now I can only find used copies on places like Amazon.
  5. Remember, in Utah, your child can legally carry his EpiPen or Auvi-Q. But he probably is not capable of administering it to himself in an emergency, so make sure the teachers and everyone else know where it is and how to use it. Because both EpiPen and Auvi-Q are available right now for $0 copay, get a pair for the school office, and a second pair to keep with the child (in his backpack or lunch bag, usually). You might also attach a luggage tag with his photo on it to his backpack, so the teacher can tell which backpack is his quickly.
  6. If he's going to be having lunch at school, talk to the Lunch Lady and cafeteria monitor. Introduce your child, tell her what your child is allergic to, and let your child know that the Lunch Lady is a friend that will help keep him safe. Then remember the Lunch Lady and the cafeteria monitor on holidays with little thank you cards or gifts to show you appreciate them. Few people do that. But it will help keep your child's food issues fresh in their mind, and they'll get to know him well.
  7. Ask about setting up a food table just for allergic kids. All that’s required is a table with a sign that says allergies only, and the cafeteria monitors clean it with a separate marked bucket and cloth. Don’t let them make your child eat in a separate room or the principal’s office. He shouldn’t be punished or isolated just because he’s allergic to some foods! Ask the principal to mention the allergy table in a newsletter or other information that goes home with kids at the beginning of the year. You may find other kids with allergies expressing an interest in sitting at the table if they know it’s available.
  8. Ask the parents of your child’s friends to send safe lunches with them every once in a while, so they can eat with your child. Make it a fun place to be!
  9. Most peanut-allergic kids don’t react to the smell of peanut butter in the air, but a few do. If you are worried if your child will react to the air in the cafeteria, ask to take him in for a “practice run.” Sit in the cafeteria for half an hour and see if he reacts. If he doesn’t, cross that worry off your list.
  10. Eat lunch with him for the first few days. That will reassure both of you that you can both handle this!
  11. Talk to the teacher about which cafeteria door your child should use to avoid peanut butter contact (usually the one furthest from the playground), where to put his lunch bag after lunch, and where his EpiPens will be.
  12. Remind your child NOT to throw away his lunch trash. Tell him to bring it home in his lunch bag, so that he can avoid using the trash can. If another kid slam-dunks a half-full milk carton in the trash can, you don’t want your milk-allergic child to get splashed.
  13. Medical alert jewelry can help remind teachers and other staff about your child’s allergy. Lots of companies now provide medical alert jewelry in styles ranging from classic metal bracelets to fashionable plastic jewelry or even cool fabric sports bands (like at American Medical ID). Use your favorite search engine to find a style your child will enjoy wearing.
  14. If your schedule allows, volunteer a lot, so the staff knows you and counts on you (not just for allergy issues). If the only time they see you is when there's a food allergy issue, then you may start feeling like they're whispering "Oh no, here she comes again." But if they see you as a "Gosh, what would we do without her" kind of volunteer, then the occasional food issue will be coming from a great mom who's making a reasonable request.
  15. If someone else is already the class mom, or you can't volunteer for that position, tell the teacher you really need to attend all parties and field trips because of the food allergy. The teacher may want to let the other parents know that you'll be selected for all the special events because of the food allergy, so that they don't think the teacher is playing favorites.
  16. Volunteer to shop for all the snacks or food materials for classroom parties or food educational units (like making noodle necklaces or gingerbread houses, etc.). Tell the teacher if she'll collect money donations, you'll go buy all the ingredients. They're usually delighted to get out of having to shop, and it lets you ensure the ingredients are safe.
  17. Be aware and be prepared, but don't panic! School is going to be a lot of fun, and your child will do just fine. And believe it or not, so will you!