Allergy testing: beating the odds

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV) It happened. It really happened! My son’s peanut allergy no longer exists. For the past two years we’ve avoided restaurants, bypassed places and events that were “risky”, eliminated every sort of nut product from our cupboards, and done everything possible to keep our three-year-old little boy safe.

I’ve spent endless hours researching treatments and cures for nut allergies and learning all about the crazy way that food is manufactured around the globe. I’ve called and emailed food companies to see if their products are really safe and I’ve tried to stay on top of every recall in America (literally).

Today is the day we had our oral challenge. Today is the start of a new chapter of our lives.

Preparing for test day

easton reading
Enjoying bedtime and reading stories the night before the test

Mentally getting myself ready for test day was not easy and I can’t exactly say I did a good job.  I tried to spend a lot of time with Easton the night before.  The nagging feelings of negativity kept clouding my thoughts.  I just squeezed him tighter fearful of the worst. Needless to say, it was a sleepless night for everyone. There was anxiety in the air; even the dog woke up whining around 4 a.m.

We woke up at 6 a.m. absolutely exhausted and filled with dread.  Trying our best to be positive we dropped our daughter off at daycare and headed off to our appointment.  As I pulled onto the highway I could see him in my rear-view mirror, strapped safely in his car seat bopping his head to his favorite tunes on the radio.

I felt numb all over and I felt guilty.  I knew what was ahead and what could happen.  My sweet innocent boy had no clue, he just trusted that his parents wouldn’t put him in harm’s way.

The guilt was overwhelming. I reminded myself, “this is just part of being a parent.”

 

THE TEST

Phase 1- the scratch

The first test was the scratch test.  Two years ago Easton tested positive to peanuts. I remember the hive bubbled up so quickly that the nurse wiped it off because of his reaction.  He had also tested positive to dogs, cats, rabbits, grass, trees, mold and dust.

So here we were back in the little room to do it all again, this time specially for Public Enemy Number 1: Peanut

After consulting with the doctor we decided to also do the scratch test for tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews etc.,) and seeds, these were foods we’d been strictly avoiding due to the high risk factors associated with highly allergic foods.  His blood work was negative to everything and they felt it would be a worth the extra “scratches”.

We took his shirt off, well tried to take his shirt off.  He got upset and fought us, mostly because he’s three and that’s just what three-year-olds do.  We tried to bribe him to lay on his stomach and watch the iPad but again he wasn’t interested.  Finally my husband had to lay, holding hin against his chest for 10 grueling minutes filled with tears.

Easton got about a dozens scratches and screamed after each one.  (It hurts my heart just thinking about it)  But… he did it and we were so proud of him.   I hovered over him watching each tiny black spot and held my breath, 10 minutes to go.  As each minute passed I grew calmer.  He wasn’t reacting.  There were no hives.  My “hope meter” jumped from a zero to about an eight!

Phase 2- The swab

Next Easton had put a swab of peanut butter on the inside of his cheek for 10 minutes to see if his mouth would have any type of reaction.  This was probably the worst part of the day.  Easton looked at the swab and said, “No that’s PEANUT BUTTER!  I’m not eating that!”

I tried to explain but he still refused.  We tried a million things but finally Dad had to hold him in his lap while I held the swab in his mouth.  He screamed and cried and kicked and cried some more.

Luckily it was over fairly quick and the nurse swooped in to save the day with a prize box of goodies to choose from and Easton was happy to get down and relax for a bit.  So were we!.  The Hope Meter clicked to 9.

Reading a book after the swab test
Reading a book after the swab test

Phase 3- Ingestion

Next up, Easton was served a plate of animal crackers and a serving size of peanut butter.  I sucked in a deep breath as I handed him an animal cracker sandwich filled with peanut butter.  He refused to eat it.

So I did what any good mom would do, I bribed him.

The promise of his first ice-cream cone and a happy meal did the trick.  Dad played silly Disney songs and Easton danced and ate animal crackers loaded with gooey peanut butter.

He ate cracker after cracker as the nurses monitored him, making sure his blood pressure and oxygen levels were good.  He didn’t have any issues.  He was doing it!  I wanted to faint with relief.  After he ate his final cracker, they literally turned on a stop watch timer and we waited for thirty long minutes.  No reaction!

The doctor came back in and slapped us high five and we all cheered and celebrated.  He passed.  It really happened.

easton allergy test
Getting his blood pressure checked

 

“Outgrowing” an allergy

According to F.A.R.E, “peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies among children. In the United States, the number of children with peanut allergy more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. This allergy tends to be lifelong; only about 20 percent of children are fortunate enough to outgrow it.”

So what does that mean?  Well for Easton it will mean eating peanut butter at least two times per month to keep his body used to peanuts.  We’ll work toward building nuts into Easton’s diet and back into our own.  It’s going to take a while for all of our comfort levels to get to a place where we feel safe.

Easton with his prize after passing the challenge
Easton with his prize after passing the challenge

Easton’s allergy has consumed every facet of our lives ever since the day he was diagnosed. You have to be so tuned in to your child’s every move, every thing that hits their lips and everything that’s happening around them. Now things will change but we’ll work toward it,cautiously and carefully, building our confidence as we go.

 Easton’s allergy has consumed every facet of our lives ever since the day he was diagnosed.

Easton’s doctors want him to continue carry an epi-pen at all times for the next year to be safe.  They want us to start to introduce tree nuts on a weekly basis. First a sesame seed bun, then maybe a brownie with a walnut.

In the meantime we excited for Easton to get to try new things. Easton has never had ice cream due to a seriously flawed system for cross contamination labeling. He hasn’t tried chinese food or been able to pick out a donut.  He’s never had a baked good that I didn’t make.  He’s never had a store-bought cookie or cupcake, and he’s never eaten at a buffet. The list goes on and on.

We are so excited for Easton.  This changes everything for him.  He can go to a baseball game now with his dad and it won’t matter if the guy next to them is shelling peanuts.  He can go to a birthday party and have a slice of cake.   He doesn’t have to sit alone at the “peanut table” next year at school. He can go to a sleepover.

That’s what people don’t realize.  Food is how we socialize and how we connect with the people around us.  When you have a food allergy there’s a lot of things you can’t do.  Well now we can!

I’m so gratful to know that my son is in this “20 percent”, but my heart aches for the other moms who won’t get to experience this moment, this victory.  We are lucky and blessed and I won’t ever forget it.

Resources for Food Allergies:

F.A.R.E.: Food Allergy Research and Education

How to read a label

Food allergy 101 (the basics)

Support for parents

Safe Snack Guide

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