Going Gluten-FreeMay 14, 2013

A Decade of Love & Food Allergies

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Posted by Wendy Mondello

It’s not unusual for my son Joseph to beat me when we play tennis and for my score to remain at "love" the entire game. The word "love" often is used in a positive way but not when it comes to tennis scoring. That's OK. The tennis court is a place that makes my son the happiest and for that, I'm fine with having the "love" score.

We just celebrated Joseph's 10th birthday. Ten years ago when he was born, my husband and I had no idea that we were entering the world of food allergies. He had ten perfect tiny toes and ten perfect little fingers. Our biggest debate was whether he would be a Penn State fan like his mom or a West Virginia fan like his dad. Well, even that turned out to be a surprise — my child is a Gators’ fan.

Joseph had his first anaphylactic reaction before he turned a year old. One small teaspoon of yogurt and suddenly we were plunging down an unfamiliar, scary path. During the past ten years, we have learned so much about Joseph's life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, along with his asthma. As our son has grown, so has the world of food allergies.

During Joseph's life, the number of people with food allergies has increased to about 15 million Americans, including 1 in 13 kids, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). With that growth have come more allergy-friendly products, advances in research regarding food allergies, laws to require better labeling and to ensure that epinephrine is required in more schools across the country, and even more options in the type of epinephrine self-injector available to save lives. The amount of support and resources has increased too, especially thanks to social networking. There are now wonderful products created just for those with food allergies and sensitivities—food items, cookbooks, children's books, music (by food-allergy musician Kyle Dine) and Living Without magazine (where my research articles are featured).

But there is still much work to be done. More research is essential to find a cure for food allergies and sensitivities. There is a need for more education so that our children aren’t bullied and so that caretakers understand all of the foods and products in which problem ingredients show up.

We have had plenty of challenges (both medically and emotionally), scares, trips to the emergency room and doctor visits. My love for Joseph makes my heart break when he feels anxious about unsafe food being near him, isolated when he's left out because of his food allergies or scared when he has trouble breathing. But these challenges are just a part of living with food allergies and sensitivities.

We navigate all this while nurturing our sweet, funny boy and fostering his positive attitude. We have taught him how to safely enjoy his life. Just like lots of kids his age, he likes when I make pizza for dinner, has fierce competitions with his dad on the Wii, cheers for his favorite hockey team, plays with his little sister, has fun with his friends and rolls his eyes when I embarrass him.

The day before his tenth birthday, Joseph wrote in his journal: "When I'm 10, I want to read more, make more Legos, play more tennis, have fun and be a kid."

I am proud of my 10-year-old boy. So when he stands across the tennis court from me and serves — 15-love, 30-love, 40-love, game — I am grateful that he is healthy, happy and growing stronger every day and that I can be part of this game he loves.

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