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When I Overheard a Man Blame Severe Food Allergies on 'Natural Selection'

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I was at a meeting when I overheard a conversation in which a man was ranting and raving about the fact that his child’s school is 100 percent peanut- and nut-free. He was angry about the fact that his child couldn’t bring peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter and crackers or peanut butter cookies to school.

Then came the big shock: He said this about three times during the conversation, “If what my kid eats is going to kill your kid, that’s natural selection.” He turned to my direction after the last time he said it. I called him out and said, “If that were the case, my daughter wouldn’t be here. She’s allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, tomatoes, citrus, berries, kiwi, melon, salmon, red food dye, and amoxicillin.”

Leslie Hart and her children
Leslie and her children.

His jaw dropped. I explained my daughter has had numerous anaphylactic reactions in her life and described the hives, face swelling, airways constriction, spasms and drop in blood pressure. I let him know my daughter doesn’t react to being in a room with peanuts but some other kids do. I went on to tell him while I can’t protect her from everything due to the massive amount of allergies she has, she is very much an advocate for herself, and I also sincerely appreciate anything people do to help protect her.

I’ve read the stories about children dying from reactions, and I’ve witnessed extreme reactions with my own daughter. I’ve given and watched her get EpiPen shots and driven like a maniac and rode in ambulances with her to hospitals.

This man ended up being extremely apologetic for what he said. But it still amazes me there are so many people out there who just don’t get it. I was actually asked by someone years ago if my daughter was truly allergic to all this food or if she just didn’t like to eat it. I have a picture of her back from her last allergy screening. Jaws drop when they see it.

If people even knew what it’s like to watch your child having multiple reactions in front of you while pulling out an EpiPen and dialing 911 at the same time, praying for the ambulance to get there faster because she’s shaking and having trouble breathing. Or watching the hives to make sure they’re going away and hoping that’s the worst of it. Or giving bleach baths and smearing steroids all over her because she’s covered in eczema from who knows what she’s reacting to this time. Sending your child to school, a playdate or a birthday party and praying that all will be OK because you’re not there. You have to put faith in your child’s abilities to care for herself and others to care for her because you can’t always be there.

The best advice I would have for a parent of a child with food allergies is don’t live in a bubble. Let your child enjoy life. Go out to restaurants but be prepared. Call ahead, speak with the manager and bring foil if needed (to avoid cross contamination). Let them go to a birthday party and pack special treats like an allergy-free cupcake or a pint of soy ice cream.

Talk to other parents and show them how to use an EpiPen — I usually bring a demo pen to show them — and then leave. Even if you just park down the street, at least you’re not the hovering parent when everyone else’s parents have gone.

Teach your children to ask their friends nicely to wash their hands after eating something in order to avoid a reaction when they play. A true friend wouldn’t want the orange they just ate to cause their friend to stop breathing because of the juice on their hands.

Don’t let your child live in fear. Educate them, remind them of what to do if they feel anything is wrong and empower them to advocate for themselves. Someday your child is going to be an adult and will need all these experiences to give them the confidence to navigate life with allergies on their own. Pray that each day will be safe for your child and give thanks for each day that remains free of a reaction.

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Originally published: May 6, 2016
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