Stephanie found out about Alex's peanut allergy the hard way, after having an anaphylaxis reaction at the very young age of two. Alex just wanted to try his mommy's peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He took his first two bites and didn't want anymore. A few minutes later, he complained that his tongue was hurting. Stephanie looked at Alex's tongue and was horrified to discover that it was swollen. Stephanie said, "I knew at that moment that our lives would be forever changed, and I was scared." Stephanie called her husband in to take a look and they both saw his lips swelling. Scared and not knowing what to do, Stephanie contacted her Pediatrician after hour's line. The on-call nurse that was helping them was very unknowledgeable and simply advised them to take Alex to the pharmacy to get Benadryl. Having never been previously exposed to peanut allergies, they followed the nurse's instructions. Unfortunately, the Benadryl was not effective Alex's reaction continued to get worse. An hour later, Stephanie tried feeding Alex some food, but he just vomited after only a few bites. Stephanie and her husband continued to closely watch their son and then right before bedtime, they discovered that Alex had hives from head to toe. They called the nurse back and she told Stephanie and her husband to take Alex to the hospital. They were never told to call 911, which is the best thing to do when an anaphylaxis reaction occurs. Alex was treated with steroids, Benadryl and breathing treatments. The ER kept him for observation and then sent him home that night once they felt he was ok. He was back to his normal self the next day.
Upon discharge from the ER, Alex's parents were told to take him to the pediatrician the next morning. Alex's dad came home from this appointment with nothing more than a prescription for an EpiPen Jr. They had no trainers or instructions available. A few weeks later, they took Alex to an allergist and confirmedd he was allergic to peanuts and some tree nuts. Stephanie said, "We got our questions answered and received reassurance that managing a life-threatening peanut allergy, though requiring processes and diligence, is doable."
Stephanie and her family had an angel watching over them that day. There were so many missed steps and all because of lack of awareness and education. Things have greatly changed in the Gatewood household. They are now armed with all the knowledge that they can get and continue to learn more. But most importantly, they are armed with an Epipen and they know what needs to be done at the first signs of anaphylaxis.
The day her son took his first and last bites of peanut butter, was also the last day for Stephanie and her family to have peanut butter in their house Stephanie said, "Because we didn’t have extensive or severe food allergies in the family, we had no reason to believe our children would have any food allergies. At the time, I didn’t realize that a family history of hay fever coupled with a child’s history of eczema increased the risk of food allergies. Our pediatrician never told us Alex was at risk for food allergies because of his history of eczema or my environmental allergies. So I was not at all cautious about introducing new foods. I was completely clueless about food allergies until Alex’s reaction." Stephanie also said, "Even with
total avoidance, the odds are stacked against him for outgrowing it, especially given the severity of his reaction on first exposure, but we can hope."
I have never met Stephanie in person, but feel like I have gotten to know her well. She has been a very active and knowledgeable person on our Face Book Community Page and she is also the Group Leader of No Nuts Moms Group of Richmond, VA. The group started in March 2012 and they currently have 12 members and are still growing. In addition to her being an active member of No Nuts Moms Group, she also has her own Face Book community page, a blog called Peanut Free Parenting, and she has just finished a book called When Peanuts are Poison. The book is meant to be a helpful guide for those newly diagnosed with a peanut allergy. I think this is a great resource for all. Actually, I feel like it should be a must for all peanut and nut allergic patients to read. Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with this allergy for years, there is always more to learn. When Peanuts are Poison is available in three different formats.
Stephanie said, "I felt so lost and overwhelmed and scared after Alex’s reaction. I want to help other moms to get over those horrible feelings. And I think information and experience are the best way. And I can at least give information." Stephanie believes that one of the biggest challenges parents of food allergic children face is successfully educating other people who have a direct effect on our children in regard to their allergies and getting those people to comply with our rules. Stephanie said, "I think we often do a poor job of educating or making requests of others because we let our emotions get in the way. We are, understandably, so emotional that we forget to show others empathy." You can read more on this in her book.
Stephanie wants to continue to support the food allergy community in any way that she can. Her biggest hope is that one day there is a cure and all the work she has done and knowledge she has gained about food allergies will become obsolete.