I am the parent of a 4 1/2 year old with MULTIPLE life-threatening food allergies. I have lived the nightmare that no parent should ever experience—anaphylaxis—three times. When he was 21 months old a nice elderly woman in the daycare center at my gym was snacking on peanut butter crackers and offered him a bite. Here she thought she was being considerate and thoughtful by sharing her food. But, in reality she almost killed him. Over a matter of four hours, he had vomited, developed hives all over his body, and was gasping for air to get just a breath.
I live in Baltimore, but grew up in Detroit where my family still resides. And I miss it. Since having kids, going back ‘home’ and sharing my childhood experiences with them has become a necessity for my mental health. Thank you to Southwest Airlines for having such reasonably priced and easy flights.
I would never put my child’s health at risk. But, at the same time, I understand I can’t keep him in a bubble and sheltered. Together, we are learning how to manage his severe allergies while still doing what we love to do. But, by far, the most anxiety-provoking event we have encountered thus far related to his food allergies has been flying on an airplane.
We learned very quickly that Southwest Airlines offers special accommodations for this disability (yes, it is considered that) by allowing us to pre-board in order to best wipe down and clean our seating area, and during that particular flight they do not pass out peanuts. However, if the flight before us did not have a peanut allergy, they very well could have served them leaving peanut dust everywhere, and random peanuts in and around the seats. In fact, on one of the flights when he was 3, he picked up a peanut, showed it to me, and so excitedly told me he found a seashell. That almost caused me to have a heart attack.
Prior to his diagnosis, I was completely unaware and uneducated on food allergies, let alone their severity. While I have become a strong advocate in the food allergy community, I still acknowledge there are many people who have a lack of understanding, just like I did before having Austin.
Being a mother of a child with life-threatening food allergies is endless. The constant worry, fear, and anxiety has given me a completely new perspective on parenting. What if someone was eating a peanut butter sandwich in the same seat that Austin plopped himself on? And what if I somehow missed it when I was wiping his seat down? Then, he touches it without knowing, and puts his hand in his mouth. In seconds, he could stop breathing.
Southwest Airlines announced yesterday that as of August 1, they will stop serving peanuts. This is an enormous feat, and a major breakthrough for food allergies. There is nothing more frustrating though than seeing complaints one after another on social media expressing dissatisfaction from food allergy families. Yes, there are other allergens that cause the same severe, potential life-threatening reaction as peanuts. However, peanuts are one of the eight most allergenic foods, which together account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions to food, according to the FDA. Southwest is the start of greater awareness, understanding, and safety of those with food allergies.
As the mother of a child with multiple life-threatening food allergies, peanuts being one of them, I am so grateful to Southwest Airlines for making this bold move. It gives families like ours hope and much promise. Hopefully this is the start of an inspiring trend.