Tuesday, May 31, 2011


We can't seem to put Abigail's chronic stomach aches behind us.  Last summer I took her to see a pediatric gastroenterologist and through history and blood work, he ruled out a ton of potential culprits, Lupus, Crones, Celiac to name a few.  We opted not to do an invasive endoscopy because the blood work didn't indicate a need.  We left with a diagnosis of Functional Abdominal Pain and a prescription for Zantac.  We had already tried the stronger Prilosec without much benefit, and it was not something I wanted her to continue to take anyway.  The Zantac helps with the occasional bought of reflux.

Later in the fall, I took Abigail to see a Mind/Body Therapist who specialized in treating children who have chronic pains.  She worked with Abigail for a couple of months teaching her how to use breathing and visualization techniques.  That had some benefits and the stomach pain stopped occurring on a daily basis.

I'd like to say that she no longer suffers from stomach aches, but that's not the case.  They seemed to wain this last winter, but now she's complaining about them more frequently.  She has also been experiencing heartburn/acid reflux more frequently and most of the time Zantac or children's Tums takes care of it.  But other times, her stomach just hurts for no apparent reason.  I ask, and she'll say that she's not nervous or anxious about anything, although sometimes, I can attribute her stomach pains to a particularly stressful week.  By chance though, I did find something that provides some comfort.  Peppermint.

Whether it really helps physically I don't know.  It could very well just be a mental thing.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website though, "because it has a calming and numbing effect, it has been used to treat headaches, skin irritations, anxiety associated with depression, nausea, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, and flatulence."  The site also reports that a number of studies support the use of peppermint for indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome.

I'm a big tea drinker.  I start with hot green tea in the morning, usually have iced black tea in the afternoon, and a lot of evenings drink hot peppermint tea before bed.  While I was tea shopping for myself, I came across Just for Kids Organic Tummy Comfort by Traditional Medicinals.  It's safe for kids with mild herbs in child appropriate amounts.  Abigail doesn't drink it too often, but I like having it available in the pantry.  I usually make it and then ice it down.

Seeing how she enjoyed the peppermint tea and was always asking to have one of my Newman's Own Organic Wintergreen mints, I wanted to find a special tin of mints just for her that was pure peppermint.  My local health store stocks VerMints.  These were a wonderful find.  They're nut free, GMO free and gluten free...and they're all hers, making them extra special.

Neither the gastroenterologist, her pediatrician or her doctor at Duke believe that taking the peanut drops is causing Abigail's stomach aches.  I just know that she didn't complain of stomach pains until several weeks after starting the peanut clinical trial. I posted about my concern as long ago as March 2010.  We won't really know if the two are associated until we've finished the trial.  Maybe not even then.  She'll still have to continue eating peanuts to maintain her tolerance.  Another year though and she should be desensitized.  If by chance the two are linked, then these stomach aches should go away sometime between now and next June.  If not, I just don't know.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Allergic Reaction to Peanut-Tainted Blood

There is an article published today on msnbc.com about a boy that had an allergic reaction requiring an injection of adrenaline during a blood transfusion. The doctors looked at all possible scenarios including allergic reactions to drugs and latex.  It wasn't until the boy's mom mentioned him having a similar reaction to peanuts when he was an infant that made the doctors start looking at the blood donors.  They traced the blood back to five donors and found that three of them had eaten handfuls of peanuts the night before they donated platelets.  Apparently, there are no other documented incidences of this happening; however according to this article, there have been other incidents reported of patients developing a peanut allergy after receiving donated blood from a peanut allergic donor.

This has my mind spinning.  The majority of the time, blood transfusions are given in life or death situations.  Getting a peanut allergy as a result is a small price to pay?  Right??  Wrong??  Or, should Abigail and other peanut allergic individuals not do something special and donate blood?  But, what about the flip side?  How are they protected? In the future, will blood donors need to document that they've eaten peanuts prior to making the donation?  According to this article, "the major allergen in peanuts, Ara h2, is extremely resistant to digestion because of a peptide that can show up in blood serum for up to 24 hours after ingestion." In this case, when the boy's blood was tested, the doctors found his levels of peanut-specific antibodies and the peptide were far higher than normal.  The scientists studying his case claim that the peanut eating donors transmitted the allergen which triggered his reaction.

I'd love for you to read the article and then let me know your thoughts.  As peanut allergies continue to rise and until doctors and scientist have a handle on this epidemic, I'm pretty sure we've not heard the last of this.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Last week was Food Allergy Awareness Week, this week is National Eosinophil Awareness Week.  Whether we're parents of food allergic children or have a severe food allergy ourselves, we understand the trials of diligently avoiding offending food(s).  What if though, all foods were offending?

I have a very dear friend whose 9 year old son has Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE).  He went from a child that could eat everything to a young boy that could eat nothing.  Earlier last year, his only food source was a special elemental formula juice box.  After numerous endoscopies with biopsies, he has since been able to add foods to his diet.  Know what he can eat now?  Grapefruit, lite canned peaches, sweet potatoes and pinto beans.  The only seasoning allowed is salt and sugar.  His only drinks are water and the elemental formula juice boxes. 

What is EoE?  It's a disease characterized by inflammation of the esophagus with an abnormal number of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell associated with allergies, parasites and cancers). In my friend's son’s case, the elevated levels are caused by food and possibly environmental allergies. Symptoms vary by case.  Her son started off with reflux that did not get better with medication and chronic stomach pain. As time went on he had chest pain, throat pain, regurgitation 20-40 times a day and vomiting after eating. He also has had chronic sinus infections since he was an infant and continues to suffer from croup during winter months.

I know what a battle it is to keep Abigail safe from the risks of her peanut allergy.  I understand what means my friend goes through to keep her son safe, and I see how incredibly brave her son is as he watches his friends enjoy what used to be his favorite foods.  I don't pretend though to understand what their family must go through on a daily basis.  We can still go out to eat.  Abigail can still have a birthday cake not a cardboard box decorated like a cake so that there are candles to blow out. I can still fix our family's favorite foods.  We're not spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment each month on elemental juice boxes because insurance doesn't cover them.  We can rely on organizations like FAAN to help fund food allergy research and serve as our voice for new legislation.  Abigail has blood drawn and skin prick tests performed every 6 months.  She's not put to sleep for an endoscopy every 2 to 3 months.  No, I don't pretend to understand.

What I can do is help my friend raise awareness and be there for her when she needs emotional support.  I love her dearly.  I've been leaning on her for support in dealing with Abigail's allergy for years, and I can't thank her enough for that.  She's a blessing in my life.  She and her family deserve a few blessings themselves.

If you'd like to read more about EoE or find out more about National Eosinophil Awareness Week, my friend has a blog, www.eeldkids.blogspot.com.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Air Canada Denies Peanut Allergic Passenger...Right or Wrong?

Imagine this.  Your 19 year old son is about to embark on a two week mission trip.  Yes, he does have a severe peanut allergy, but as a family, you've flown several times a year for family vacations so you feel confident in his safety while aboard the airplane.  After much preparation, it's time to take your son to the airport, get him checked in, kiss him good-bye and tell him to have a safe trip.  Except that's not what happens.  Instead, you get to the airport, go to check him in, properly declare that he's carrying Epi Pens and antihistamine tablets and are then told by the airline staff that he'll not be flying on their airline without authorization from their medical desk.  Now, are you upset that your son is going to miss his flight or are you angry that your son is being penalized because he has a severe peanut allergy?

This was the case for Matthew Burns earlier this week as he tried to board Air Canada which would take him from Halifax to Toronto. From there he was going to catch a plane to Fiji where he would join the other volunteers for his mission trip (not a bad place to go for a mission trip...but I regress).  His mom booked the flight using a rewards program, and told them of her son's allergy.  She did not contact Air Canada directly.

Air Canada spells out their peanut allergy policy on their website.  They require a 48 hour notification so that they can create a peanut free zone around the passenger's seat.  In this case, the airline was not notified by the reward company, and they refused to let Matthew board the plane.

Matthew did make it to Fiji.  He was able to get a seat aboard an American Airlines flight that same day.  American Airlines didn't have a problem with his allergy.  In fact, their website states that while they do not serve peanuts, they take no extra safety precautions for their food allergic customers.

So, what's worse?  An airlines that refuses a customer because they did not receive notification and were not able to make a safe zone or an airline policy that says travel at your own risk?  According to the article, the parents weren't necessarily upset because the airline refused to let their son board the plane, but more because the staff at the ticket counter wiped their hands of the situation and did not offer to help the family find a solution.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

I'm using a post that I wrote last year this time.  I hope you don't mind seeing it again.  It's one of my personal favorites.  Happy Mother's Day to all of my wonderful readers!

Today I want to recognize a special group of moms...moms of children with life-threatening allergies.  A mom with an allergic child has a lot on her plate making sure certain foods stay off their kids' plates!  So, here's to the moms that make sure that the EpiPens and antihistamines are always on hand and in date, that read every label on every food, that call ahead to restaurants to see if the food is safe, that know every party/special occasion that takes place in their child's class in order to provide a comparable safe treat, that have meeting after meeting with school officials and teachers to discuss the special requirements of their child's allergy, that fill out multiple health forms and action plans with in case of emergency details, that receive the grumbling from a few that feel put out for having to accommodate their child's allergy, that hate knowing their child will be labeled as disabled, that search cookbooks looking for allergy friendly recipes and websites looking for alternative ingredients, that break the bad news to their child that they can't attend a function because it's not safe, that help their child sort through Halloween candy bags and Valentine card boxes to remove offending treats only to find that the throw out pile is larger than the keep pile, that keep up-to-date with all food recall information to make sure there isn't a mislabeled food violation in their pantry, that write their political leaders asking for more support for food allergy issues, that get angry with food manufacturers for worrying more about the bottom line then the safety of their child, that go to battle with acquaintances maybe even family members that don't believe the seriousness of their child's allergy, that hold their child's hand tightly while they have blood drawn or their skin pricked during a food allergy test, that explain to their child one more time that they're not weird and that yes it is unfair that they have this allergy, that pray regularly that there will someday be a cure for or even just a better understanding of food allergies, that wait year after year thinking this will be the one when their child outgrows their allergy only to realize that it's probably not going to happen, that watch their child go off to school by himself and worry all day that he isn't exposed to that one or more foods that can make him deathly ill, that soothe a child upset by an insensitive comment made by a peer, that spend hours researching the latest food allergy treatments, that drive miles out of the way to shop at grocery stores that stock safe foods, that spend hundreds of dollars more a year for those safe foods, that frequent their child's school at lunchtime so that their child doesn't have to sit alone, that shelter their young child from the true consequences of their food allergy and later watches as their older child accepts those consequences for themselves, that teach their child how to inject a life-saving device into their thigh, that hope their teenager isn't too cool or too forgetful to carry their EpiPen when they're out with their friends, that rush to the hospital because one of their greatest fears did occur and their child is having difficulty breathing, that remove an offending food from their own diet so as to not put their child at risk, that privately battle their anxiety, that paste a smile on their face and assure their child that everything is going to be okay and that pray they can keep it together, be strong for their child and family and protect their child from the dangers they face on a daily basis. To you fellow moms, a very special Happy Mother's Day!

Many Blessings,

Monday, May 2, 2011

Please Label GM Ingredients!

My Favorite!
I've been pretty hypocritical lately.  I've been under a lot of stress these past few weeks, and I've found myself eating junk foods that normally would be off limits because of their genetically modified ingredients.  During our house-selling/moving process, I discovered Ben & Jerry's ice cream and have personally eaten 4 pints in just as many weeks.  In fact, I even went so far as to write my name on top of a container telling my family that I was not sharing and that the container was off limits.  Ben & Jerry's has a great story to tell about their allergen labeling, their rBST-free dairy and cage-free egg ingredients and Fair Trade chocolate and vanilla.  However, on their website, they do state that they are unable to use other non-GM ingredients.

On the other hand though, I've been super worked up about the use of genetically modified ingredients and there not being a legal requirement for companies to label these ingredients.  In order to find out if Ben & Jerry's used GM ingredients, I had to do significant searching on their website.  As parents of allergic children, we're used to constantly contacting food manufacturers, so we all know it's a time-consuming process.  Now add to that finding a company's policy on the use of genetically modified ingredients.  It's no longer about just trying to avoid peanuts and tree nuts to keep Abigail safe, it's now also about trying to protect the health of my whole family.

There is a big movement right now in the organic community to pressure stores to insist their food suppliers label foods.  I think the realization is that we can't depend on our government to force the issue by passing a law.  I did do my part though by contacting my state representatives.  The target store right now is Whole Foods.  According to the article, "Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto," by Ronnie Cummings who writes for the Organic Consumers Association, "a self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it’s time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of genetically engineered crops, such as Monsanto’s controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for “coexistence” with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack."

What's the main reason Whole Foods surrendered?  According to the same article, "Whole Foods is pleading for coexistence with Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and the rest of the biotech bullies, because they desperately want the controversy surrounding genetically engineered foods and crops to go away. Why? Because they know, just as we do, that 2/3rd's of WFM’s $9 billion annual sales is derived from so-called “natural” processed foods and animal products that are contaminated with GMOs."

Here's a YouTube clip of a protester trying to get answers at a Whole Foods as to what products contained genetically modified ingredients.  Her point... if you'd require labeling, consumers could make educated purchasing decisions and the store employees would know what they were selling.  However, as a Monsanto executive stated,  If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it. 

If you're unclear abut the "natural" versus organic labeling, here's a link to an older post on my blog to get you started.

Back to to Ben & Jerry's.  While they do use GM ingredients for their US products (they've re-formulated the European flavors because of it's GMO-free requirements), they are actively, and have been for years, trying to find alternatives to GM soy and corn ingredients.  Per their website, "Our goal is to be GMO-free in both our domestic and international products. Some of the issues we are confronting at the present time are the availability of a non-GMO supply of alternatives such as corn syrup and add-ins such as candies, and certification of those supplies. Currently we cannot obtain secure free assurances from all of our suppliers."  I've got to give them some credit for trying!