Guest Blog by Kelli Gill
Mother of a child with multiple food allergies
I'm told that I over react and that I'm crazy...no child can react to just touching peanut residue. They weren't there when her eye was swelling up; her cries of fear became chokes from gagging. Hives were showing up on her face, neck and arms. She rubbed her face in panic because I'm told it feels like a million fire ants crawling all over your face as the swelling spreads and her lips tingle. She didn't eat anything with her allergens, I checked and rechecked everything. But she did touch peanut. How was I to know? Needing the Epipen told me so...
I’m told my child isn’t disabled. I’m told a dog isn’t necessary to save my daughter’s life. I have people snicker and point when we have the cashier wash off the register mat in case there is peanut residue on it. I do not want my child to be disabled, but the fact is that she is.
I’m told my child can live a NORMAL child’s life, but the fact is that she can’t. I’m told avoidance of her food allergens is enough to keep her healthy and live a normal life. I have to laugh at that.
So I guess when we pull up at a stop sign beside a playground and I have to tell my daughter she can’t go play in a playground with other kids because we have to avoid her allergen, and she cries with such a hurtful look on her face, that’s her living a NORMAL healthy life.
I go to the grocery store, this time alone. I see a sign for Hershey Amusement Park. I see other kids pointing to it…screaming with excitement to their parents. I think to myself, I can’t take my kids there, or any amusement park for that matter. But then again, avoidance is living a healthy NORMAL childhood life.
I see kids in the car carts at a grocery store being handed a cookie from a bakery worker. My daughter and son can’t take the chance of eating or touching peanut residue from the cookie, so I have to tell them no and listen to them cry because they can’t understand. But I guess that’s living a NORMAL healthy childhood life.
Oh look, “Toy Story 3” is out in theatres. Oh wait, I can’t take her to that either. They sell peanut product snacks and the seats are cloth seats that hold oils and peanut dust. But, again, that’s living a healthy NORMAL childhood life.
I see kids outside my house playing…I see some walking around with their parents, picking up rocks and just being kids in the dirt. Last time I took my children for a walk, Amylee almost stepped on a piece of a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and we came across 4 other wrappers for snickers, peanut butter crackers, butterfingers… So we don’t go walking all around the place, enjoying a stroll like other people can. I can’t always watch her 110% while watching my son who’s autistic. But then again, avoidance is living a healthy NORMAL childhood life.
A guy drives down our street every day with an ice cream truck and usually stops right in front of my house. My kids run over to the fence and stand there and watch all the other kids getting ice cream cones, and yes they have PB ice cream too. My daughter points and turns to me saying…”I want some mommy.” I have to tell her no. The scooper is dipped in water to be “cleaned” between scoops. She cries and sits on the ground while I try to get her to come inside for one of her icy, peanut free frozen treats. She just cries with a pitiful look. But then
again, avoidance is living a healthy NORMAL childhood life. But then again, avoidance is living a healthy NORMAL childhood life.
My daughter watches me wipe down everything so much, she is starting to not want to sit at the table at home until I clean it first. She actually points out where her brother might have gotten a drop of milk on the table, and she gets upset because it’s not clean. When she
accidently spills something, she completely stops eating and insists on cleaning it up before she continues. What child is so concerned with things being cleaned they actually get upset.
But then again, avoidance is living a healthy NORMAL childhood life.
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No peanuts or tree nuts in our house anywhere…we check every label and call
companies to make sure they do not have nuts in their manufacturing process. I avoid all her other allergens too, just in case. I cook things separately, make two different meals to accommodate her. We clean ourselves off after being in public, change clothes and clean shoes…wash our hands and faces if we have eaten anything while away from home. We tell everyone when they come over they must have clean clothes, brushed teeth, and not handled any nut products after they changed.
Suddenly, you notice your daughter’s eye watering and starting to swell. Under both her eyes turns purple and her face starts to swell. She starts sneezing and coughing, mucus comes out of her nose, mouth and eyes and she is gagging. You lay her on the breakfast nook and
scream for your husband. You open a single dose of Benadryl and hope she can swallow it, and then get out her EpiPen. You pull her pants down and hold her hands back, count to her, one…two, three, and stick her in the leg with the EpiPen. Then you count to ten, like you’re
supposed to and pull it out, rub her leg while she starts wailing in pain. You pick her up and hold her to your shoulder while your husband calls 911. She starts shaking and sweating, her heart feels like it’s going to burst its beating so hard and fast.
“What happened?? What did I miss? What did she touch that I didn’t see?” You have a million questions running through your mind, including, “will she be ok?” The ambulance arrives and they take her to the back of the truck and load her in. She’s so cared laying there, strangers hanging over her. They hook her up to heart monitors and give her oxygen while they listen to her lungs and thankfully, they say, “Her lungs sound ok so far. You got the meds in quick enough. Good job mom. ”Did they just say good job mom? How is that a good job you think? You missed something somewhere…you weren’t careful enough. The only thing that comes to mind is she touched a deer on the mouth that everyone was looking at that YOU brought home after hunting. This would be a deer that eats tree nuts, including black walnuts. She also touched the neighbor guy’s grandsons hand before you could get her away. She touched him on the palm. He also was hunting and it’s common to have PB&J for kid’s lunches while hunting. Though, again, you’ll never know for sure what it was, since you couldn’t see it to begin with.
Five hours in a hospital, watching the doctors and nurses monitor your 2yr old daughter’s blood pressure go from unstable to normal and stabilize. Watching them undress her taking her clothes off of her because she was sweating and see the hives cover her tiny body. Watching her scratch until she almost scratched herself raw. Then she settled and passed out, she fell asleep from all her meds. You watched the nurses come in and try to wake her long enough to get steroid doses and stronger antihistamines into her. Hours later, you’re home. You’ve been told to monitor her throughout the night and next two days because anaphylaxis can return 24-48 hours without notice.
But then again, avoidance is living a healthy NORMAL childhood life. But again, there is no need for a service dog that can smell and alert you to peanut residue you can’t see so you can
avoid it. I'm crazy for thinking that. I wonder if those who chuckled at me would laugh after reading that true story that happened November 29, 2010.
As some people put it, I was crazy to put so much effort and money into a special service dog that smelled for peanuts. I was told it was a "waste of money." I was laughed at and told how many other people lived their whole lives with bad peanut allergies and never needed a service dog to live a "normal life". I even had doctors try to talk me out of it. So, what did I do? I didn't listen to them, I trusted my heart, and did what I felt was right for our daughter.
Our llives changed in the spring of 2011. We traveled to Colorado and spent two weeks being trained on how to be a service dog handler. This dog was one that changed our lives forever. Rex was trained by a professional K9 odor detection trainer to smell and alert to peanut odor. This allows us to clean it or avoid it and keep our daughter much safer. He's another tool in our tool box of prevention. He is a blessing with four paws, a wet nose and wagging tail.
After we came home with Rex and we started taking him places, he started showing us that the world was not covered in peanut. That summer, we packed up our Lysol wipes and Epipens and took our children to the amusement park for the first time in two years. Amylee got to pick the first ride, pink flying elephants. We took Rex over, he did his job, smelled the seat, the handle, the strap... no alert. I can still see Amylee's hands touching the ride while she climbed in...It was like in slow motion. My heart was in my throat. Both my kids were strapped in and the ride started. Seconds into it, Amylee exploded in laughter. She had the biggest smile I have ever seen on her face... She giggled and giggled.... I looked down at Rex and just started crying. There I was, in tears, hugging a dog and watching my kids on flying pink elephants. I must've been a sight! But it was right then that I realized that Rex wasn't just for my daughter, but he was for us too. Because of him showing us the world was not covered in peanut...Amylee realized it too and got her childhood back. That makes him absolutely priceless. That dog lifted a mountain off our shoulders. When we first got him, if Amylee walked out the door, Rex was with her. Now, after two years of having Rex, we only take him to places that cannot be controlled by using Lysol wipes. Like the playgrounds, doctors’ offices and places with cloth seats...etc. We do take him to places like grocery stores, etc to keep him in check with public places full of scents and people. All in all...it's an amazing life with Rex, but he wouldn't be the dog he is without the professionalism of his trainer and the trainers we worked with when we got him. I just can't say enough about how Rex has helped us and most importantly, helped our daughter. God has a reason for everything, and Rex was born to give our daughter her childhood back.
It's not easy being a parent of a child with multiple life threatening food allergies. That's the truth. Would I want Amylee any other way? Of course, I'd love for her to not have any health issues...what parent wouldn't? We're blessed she only has food allergies and eczema. There are much more terrible things she could have. But when she asks me why she has food allergies, this is what I tell her. "You...were made very special by God. He made you a bit different but he always has his reasons. We may not understand them, but we do have to accept them and trust Him. Because of you, I realized I wasn't the person I needed to be. I needed to have more patience, more understanding, take a little more time to know what's important in life...I needed to step outside of my comfort zone to try to make a tiny difference. Because of you, other people now know there are service dogs out there that can help them, like Rexy did for us. Because of you, we as a family now eats better than we ever did before...excluding a lot of prepackaged foods and turning to eating more fresh foods. Because of you, mommy stood in front of 1000's of people over the course of a year and talked with them about food allergies and service dogs, how they can help others with food allergies by
simply becoming educated about it. I mean, how many times did I not wash my hands after eating something with peanuts in it and just go into a store and touch clothing, or toys... I learned to be more aware of others because of you. Because of you, I looked more to God for understanding and learned I needed him more for not only my own emotions, but for my EVERYTHING. You and your food allergies changed my life for the better and now I am a better mommy to you and your brother. You slowed me down and helped me to take the time to enjoy every moment. You're not different in a bad way at all...you're a blessing in every way. Nothing in life is intended to bring you down...it's only intended to lift you up. ~ God bless
Amylee and her big brother.