He was twenty-one months old when the most terrifying and traumatic incident happened. A sweet, innocent, and trusting baby boy, who had already overcome significant health obstacles, was offered a peanut butter cracker. The thoughtful old woman was just sharing her snack, and how would he know better than to take a bite?
As his parent, I clearly didn’t do enough to protect him and keep him safe. At that young age, the responsibility to make every caregiver aware of his severe food allergies fell completely on me. My failure to do so wasn’t trivial—it almost cost him his life.
We knew he had tested positive for a peanut allergy. Because of his multiple allergies, he had developed a feeding disorder, and a significant aversion to food. Therefore, up to that point he barely consumed any food, let alone peanut butter.
The caregivers to my son at the time explained it to me like this: After being offered the peanut butter cracker, he went to take a bite, and the other caregiver saw it and immediately stopped him, knowing of his allergy. Then, she rinsed his mouth out with water, and watched for signs of a reaction—and didn’t see any.
I went to pick him up, and they informed me this all happened twenty minutes prior, and assured me he was in the clear. He was far from the clear.
It started with coughing. I asked if he had been coughing the entire time I was gone, or if it had just started. Then, his face became flushed with red patches. And, finally, he began throwing up. Scared to death, I called my allergist’s emergency line desperate for any guidance or help. He told me to give him a dose of Benadryl right away, and that should stop the reaction. But, it didn’t.
I called him back in hysterics begging to bring my son to his office. He said if you’re that worried, take him to the emergency room.
I frantically threw my screaming twenty-one-month-old and terrified two-and-a-half-year-old in the car with the plan to rush to the hospital. Minutes later, the screaming stopped. Silence. Did he stop breathing? Did he die? Could he be saved? At that same moment, I heard a fire truck with sirens coming from behind me. With no other choice, I parked my car, got out, and stood in the middle of street shrieking, shaking for help.
I witnessed the onset of this quick, deadly allergic reaction – anaphylaxis. And, it was from only a tiny ingestion of peanut butter. The worst part was my allergist explained the first exposure to an allergen tends to be the mildest. Can you imagine the fear I live in every single day, and the anxiety I feel when letting him go to school, go on playdates, and get involved in sports as to what is to come next?
His life was saved from an injection of epinephrine from the medical personnel on that fire truck. The fact that that truck just happened to have been called for duty at the same time my son stopped breathing was truly a miracle.
I am sharing these details in response to the latest Sony’s film, “Peter Rabbit.” Her son has food allergies, and a scene in the film shows blackberries being used as a weapon. The backlash to the scene has already drawn an apology from the filmmakers. “Peter Rabbit,” which came out last week, features live actors and computer-generated animals. A human character named Tom McGregor is allergic to blackberries. In a quest to gain access to his garden, rabbits pelt him with fruits and vegetables before using a slingshot to send a blackberry flying into his mouth. It works. Mr. McGregor struggles to inject himself with an Epipen and then has anaphylaxis and collapses.
There has been anger, outrage, and disbelief from the allergy world. As a parent to a child with life-threatening food allergies, my perspective differs slightly from the many who have expressed pure disgust and frustration.
As if I wasn’t scared, terrified, and anxious enough before this movie came out in theaters. Now, after it mocked the seriousness of food allergies, all of my fears have naturally magnified.
Though food allergies are on the rise, we have a long way to go when it comes to education and awareness. I say it everyday: “Unless you have a child or someone you love dearly with life-threatening food allergies, it is impossible to truly understand the fear and uncertainty every single minute, along with constant watchfulness of what they eat.”
Food allergies have affected our entire family significantly, and our lives have changed drastically. They have had a psychological impact on each of us causing significant levels of stress, frustration, and isolation. Family activities like shopping and eating out are fear-producing events because of the uncertainty of what allergens may be in the food, or if cross-contamination cannot be avoided. My son isn’t able to participate in certain school activities because of his food allergies, and that, too, is heart-wrenching.
I feel I must be on guard every minute to protect my son from possibly fatal reactions to foods. This constant vigilance wears me down. Therefore, I am confident to say that the directors, writers and producers of the movie “Peter Rabbit” were uneducated on the topic of food allergies, and have never witnessed anaphylaxis to food exposure. It isn’t possible. Otherwise, this ‘oversight’ would never have happened. They are blessed to not have to live a life in fear and terror related to food and diet.
However, this is a crucial sign that as a society we must do more to raise awareness in the severity of food allergies. If we do not, we will continue to hear and read horror stories on deaths that could have been prevented… if we had only known.
We can’t blame them for ignorance. But, we can blame ourselves for not doing enough to get the message out.