Guest Post by Mabel's Labels Marketing & Communications Manager, Karma Bryan-Ingle
Having a child with life threatening food allergies makes everyday life just a little more scary for me. But when my son’s allergies were “discovered” (via an almost fatal trip to the ER at age 3), my husband and I decided that we were not going to let his allergies dictate the way he lives and the way he gets to experience life. I know everyone deals with this diagnosis differently and it’s a very personal decision, but this is how we choose to live.
So, I have always let Evan live like any other kid, but just a little more carefully and a whole lot more aware! He goes to birthday parties, he has sleepovers, he trick or treats at Halloween and he travels. Birthday parties are easy for me… I get in touch with host parents in advance to discuss Evan’s allergies and ensure they are comfortable with feeding him. If they aren’t, I provide special snacks that I know are safe for him. I do the Epi-Pen drill with the parents at drop off and always make sure I am easily accessible. Halloween, while frightening, is manageable for us as well. We do a full sorting of the candy before Evan touches anything. In fact, he tends to sort himself as he’s collecting. He knows if someone gives him a bag of peanut M&M’s and he hands them over right away… most of the time they don’t even make it into the treat bag!
But when it comes to traveling, even I get terrified! To me there is nothing scarier than being in a confined space for a few hours, 30,000 feet in the air and someone pulling out a bag of peanuts in the seat behind us. Truly, just typing this makes my heart start to pound and my stomach do a back flip. But let me tell you, it can be manageable and I found out how on 2 recent vacations.
For Christmas 2011, we decided to take Evan to Disney. We were so excited about the trip, but this was going to be the longest flight we’d taken with him since his allergies came to light (we’d done small jaunts with him previously). We were flying Air Canada so I called them up and they were great. They put on note on the file indicating his allergies and told me the flight crew would make an announcement onboard. And not only did they announce that there was a child on board with a life threatening nut allergy once we boarded, but they also announced it before boarding in the lounge and asked people not to bring anything on board with them. I thought this was terrific service and it did provide me with the comfort level I needed.
This past Christmas we travelled to the Caribbean. We had a 5 ½ hour flight so again, my anxiety levels were going up as the trip got closer. We were flying Air Canada again, so I called them to request the same service, but instead I got even better. AC now allows you to fill out paperwork, have your doctor sign it and then they create a file that stays in the system for 5 years. Now each time Evan flies, his reservation is tagged and they create a buffer zone for us on board. This means that when the plane has boarded, the flight crew speaks to the people seated in front of us and behind us to let them know that they are not to take any nut products out of their bags and that they won’t be selling any nut products in those rows. They also offer people to switch seats if they aren’t comfortable with the arrangement.
Let me tell you… this provided such peace of mind. And the passengers seated around us were all very accommodating. With the exception of one woman who still makes my blood boil 5 months later. When the flight attendant told her the deal, she said, in a very loud, rude voice “Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous!” (After I told her my kid could die if she pulled out some peanuts, she quickly kept her opinions to herself!)
I know my experience has only been with one airline, but I’m sure all major carriers would have a similar policy. After all, approximately 4% of children between the ages of 0-18 suffer from food allergies and in the US, every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER! Those are scary and alarming statistics for sure!
So, while Evan’s life threatening allergies are certainly scary, we have found a way to manage the fear to make sure he gets the most out of life. And I think this approach works well for our family. Evan understands the seriousness of his allergies, so he is careful, but at the same time, he’s living the life every 7 year old should!