Peanuts As Child Killers

By Shell Lessen

The mother of six-year-old Nicholas educated a couple of educators recently. And for all we know, she might have saved her son’s life in the process.

Nicholas is allergic to peanuts, which means that the slightest contact with a peanut or any derivative or product containing peanuts can bring on health problems ranging from severe itchiness and a rash to a swollen face and severe breathing difficulties.

Symptoms, which occur within 15 minutes to 2 hours after contact, can also include heavy coughing spells, vomiting and turning blue, along with dizziness, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Some symptoms can become fatal.

To say the least, that’s a heavy load for Nicholas to carry to school along with his backpack every day. A load that was lightened when his mom called her “class” together at Nicholas’ school and made his situation abundantly clear.

In attendance were the principal and Nicholas’ teacher as well as the district nurse and two school nurses—all of whom were extremely understanding and helpful, she said.

Discussion centered on what steps to take under various circumstances if Nicholas should have a reaction at lunch, on the playground or in class; how to inject a dose of life-saving medicine if an attack ever reaches that point; and what can be done to protect Nicholas from touching or being touched by peanuts.

By way of protection, Nicholas’ teacher promised that they would “make hand-washing a way of life in the classroom” which, of course, benefits everyone concerned.

So at age six, he is relatively safe. But as time goes on, things will most likely become more complicated because there is no cure for peanut allergy, although researchers are hard at work on the problem.

And it is definitely a problem. Of approximately 12 million Americans who have food allergies, 2.2 million are school age kids. Although exact figures are unavailable, we are told that the number of peanut-allergic children five years old and under more than doubled between 1999 and 2002. Bear in mind that the way things now stand, all these youngsters are saddled with this condition for life.

Fortunately, some people are not ready to let a peanut get the best of them. They are the 30,000 worldwide members and supporters of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). National Honorary Chair of this dedicated group is famed  country music singer Trace Adkins, whose six-year-old daughter is allergic to peanuts. FAAN’s mission is to support research efforts and build greater awareness of food allergies through the media, education and advocacy.

The rest of us can help make it mission accomplished by donating to FAAN’s upcoming Walk for Food Allergy. It is scheduled for November 16 at the beach in Santa Monica, California. Contributions large and small are welcome—and very much needed.

Checks may be sent to FAAN Walk for Food Allergy, 11781 Lee Jackson Hwy, Suite 160 Fairfax, Virginia 22033-3309. Online contributions go to http://www.foodallergy.org/support.

The theme of this year’s walk is “Moving Toward A Cure.” For Nicholas and all the other “peanut kids,” this is certainly a move in the right direction.