My Journey as an Allergy Mom

  

Long before marriage and kids, I had the desire to  help children. As to what extent, I didn’t know. I just wanted to help  children, millions of them all over the world. On July 6, 2002, I gave  birth to the most precious baby boy who had a laugh that uplifted my  soul. I named him Tristan. Little did I know he would be the start of my  journey. I grew up in a family with no food allergies and no  environmental allergies. Our skin was smooth as silk, our appetite as  normal as the next kid, and our kitchen cabinet void of any allergy  medications. The word “allergy” was never even muttered in my house.


When  my son was three years old, I gave him a piece of toast with peanut  butter. A minute later, he handed the toast back to me and he had hives  all over his face. I didn’t know anything about hives. I just looked at  him and thought he must be allergic to peanut butter. I didn’t feel any  urgency to rush him to the ER because I didn’t know the magnitude of its  consequence. Luckily, the hives dissipated, so I didn’t think of it  again.


It wasn’t until we moved to Virginia that my  life changed in so many directions. Tristan was four years old and I  also had a five-month-old baby girl. I found a new pediatrician who  tested Tristan for allergies because he had eczema. That’s when I found  out he had food allergies. I was given an EpiPen, but I still didn’t  feel the consequence because Tristan looked fine and acted like any  other boy. However, when he was five years old, he came home from school  scratching his arms. At first, I thought it was his eczema bothering  him again, so I applied cortisone. After a few days of constant  scratching, I noticed how voracious his scratching would get and how  uncomfortable he was feeling. At that point, I knew something was wrong.


I  brought him to an allergist who later told me he had multiple food  allergies. He couldn’t eat peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, wheat,  shellfish, beef, chicken, watermelon, apples, carrots, and string beans.  He was severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs. I had to put  my son on an elimination diet to clear his system of these allergens.  Suddenly, I felt like I was caught in a tornado sweeping me in crazy  directions filled with fear, confusion, helplessness and disbelief.  Sleepless nights became my new normal as he would wake me up with bloody  arms and sheets from all the scratching, and I found myself cleaning  him up every night.


Tristan’s schooling was  affected. The social worker said Tristan was delayed developmentally and  wasn’t focused in class. They referred me to a pediatric specialist who  later told me he had Asperger’s and needed to take medicine to keep him  focused at school. I was shocked and numbed with disbelief once again. I  read all the literature about Asperger’s, but I couldn’t bring my heart  to agree with the doctor. I felt something was not right and that the  doctor had been too quick to diagnose and medicate my son without giving  him a chance to heal and live. After numerous visits to the  pediatrician and endless prescriptions for new steroidal medications, I  cried out to Tristan’s pediatrician about how the medications were  turning my son into a little monster. She told me the medications were  just band-aid fixes—Tristan needed to heal from within. Looking straight  into my eyes from one mom to the next, she said, “Go with your mama  instincts. You know your son the best.” I decided to stop all  medications except for one antihistamine that I gave Tristan once a day.   


I tirelessly resorted to the internet and  researched everything there was about eczema and food allergies. My  pursuit was relentless as I tried to figure out what was going on with  my son and what I needed to do to help him. I started a food allergy  journal and wrote down every food, medicine, and activity he was exposed  to. I was determined to get educated and to heal my son.


Meanwhile,  my son’s condition worsened. His eczema spread all over his body with  hives. Then his beautiful olive-colored skin became pale. His eyebrows  were falling off and his stomach was always bloated. I was frightened  because suddenly I saw a different child who was slowly deteriorating in  front of me. Despite what was obviously happening on the surface,  Tristan remained surprisingly happy and energetic. His little sister,  Nina, made him laugh every day. The amazing thing about kids is their  resilience and their spirit to live. God bless them!


I  found an amazing woman online who wrote a book about eczema and how she  had healed her body of it. She became instrumental in my learning. She  was patient with me and gave me unlimited coaching whenever I needed to  talk to her. I will be forever grateful to her for propelling me to  learn more about food and its healing properties.

Through  my journal, I learned Tristan had delayed reactions to wheat, which  explained the nightly scratching that resulted in bloody sheets. I  switched to gluten-free pastas and breads. I also learned that soy  contributed to eczema, so I eliminated all the culprits and cooked his  food from scratch.


I also took him to someone who  analyzed his blood and found that he was not digesting his meals wells,  so I started giving him enzymes. Then I learned about probiotics, so I  focused on healing his gut while eliminating allergens. His  skin started to heal, his hair started to grow back, and he started to  thrive once again. At ten years old, we celebrated when the social  worker, his teachers, and special education coordinator all agreed he  didn’t need special education anymore. His grades had earned him a place  on the honor roll for the first time. Tristan was on top of the world  when we told him he didn’t need to be pulled out of class for special  education anymore. He started to excel in all his classes and in sports.


I  finally understood my son. I accepted who he was and what he needed to  eat in order to survive and grow into a handsome, happy young man. I  remind Tristan that food allergies do not define who he is, and I  encourage him to advocate for himself and for his little sister.


When  my daughter, Nina, was ready to enter pre-school, I learned she had  peanut and tree nut allergies as well. I wasn’t as nervous and  unprepared as I had been with Tristan. She was ahead of the game because  food allergies had become common knowledge in my family. Nina knew how  important food choices were to the health of the family. My two kids are  a dynamic duo as they remind each other to grab their EpiPens before we  leave the house and to read all labels. They’ve also become my cooking  assistants and are on their way to cooking full meals for the family.


Four  years ago, I started to draft my first book. My daughter, a gifted  artist, sketched out amazing characters with creative names for my  story. I hired an illustrator to make them come to life. That first book  is still in draft mode because I felt the characters were meant for a  different purpose. I turned those characters into tags. I placed the  tags on my kids’ lunch bags, athletic bags, and book bags. Other kids  found them adorable and creative, and the tags allowed my kids to  advocate for themselves in a non-threatening and fun way. I later  created silicone bracelets to wear to school and athletic games too.  Necklaces soon followed with various colors.


Because  my creations were a hit with my kids and their friends, I knew many  kids would benefit from them too. Suddenly, I started to receive custom  orders. I realized kids needed support for various medical challenges as  well. This was when “Allergy Kids Central” was born. This website  serves as a resource and online store for kids and parents living with  food allergies and other medical challenges. It has been an amazing  journey watching my site develop and connect to many incredible  families, peers, and similar support groups.


Empowering  kids with safeguarding products is a first step to spreading awareness.  However, providing knowledge, encouragement, and support will foster  confidence, independence, and self-worth. Raising kids in a society of  fast food chains can be challenging, but providing healthy substitutions  can be just as rewarding. There can be challenges at school when  certain events call for certain foods that are off-limits to my kids.  It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned that planning ahead and  communicating effectively can turn that dilemma into a success for  everyone, including my kids.


This led me to writing  my first book, Dear Diary, I’m Going to a Birthday Party! I felt kids  living with food allergies needed a voice to express the emotional  roller coaster they go through with food allergies. It begins with an  “All About Me” page describing Nina Packer’s all-time favorites and the  names of her school, her best friends, and her food allergies. I chose  this beginning to let the reader know that kids with food allergies are  no different than the next. It ends with a positive note and an  empowering message.


It has been fifteen years since  my journey began. It took ten years to figure it all out. But, today, I  realize that in order to help my kids, I needed to learn and experience  their way of life. One thing I know about all kids is they are unique  individuals possessing different needs. My products are a reflection of  those needs. My book is the first of a series I plan to write that will  help kids to voice their feelings in this world full of uncertainty.  But, one thing for certain is that this mama will continue to advocate,  educate, and empower kids through her fun products, kid-friendly  website, online resources, and encouraging books. Growing up, my mom  always said, “Dream big!” However long it takes, my goal to help  millions of kids will come true. Until that day happens, my heart will  continue to overflow with love and gratitude for each child touched by  my creations.