Food Allergy’s Educating Dynamo
Karen Harris with her family.
What was it like testifying for stock epinephrine in the schools legislation in Georgia?
The law has actually been in place for a while, but there were some roadblocks that made it difficult for schools to get access to the medication. While there was immunity for educators to administer the medications, there was not any kind of legal protection for doctors to write the prescription, so we decided to improve the law.
When I was testifying, I was able to use data from one of our counties that does have stock epinephrine in its schools. I could say that in Forsyth County, epinephrine has been administered eight times in the last two years, and five of those were stock epinephrine. Some of the senators were then asking why this wasn’t a mandate.
Have you ever encountered resistance from politicians when lobbying in the ‘peanut state’?
No. Our state legislators have provided their full support during lobbying efforts. In fact, during the last meeting in our state’s capitol to strengthen Georgia’s current stock epinephrine bill, many legislators were instrumental in strengthening the bill even further.
I find it interesting you home-school your daughter, and yet so much work you’ve done is to support schools.
I home-schooled all my children; it is not because of her food allergies. But I think it’s another reason why we’ve been so successful in schools – I haven’t directly had any type of negative situation or instance in a school with my child.
On top of home-schooling Mika and your non-profit work, you work five days a week at your family’s restaurant. How do you do it all?
I don’t know. I just do. I’m just always going. On Memorial Day weekend I turned off my phone, went outside and lay out in the sun and just relaxed and played. It was very nice. I haven’t taken a vacation in four years. Obviously I’ll need to take more time for that. But it [FAKA] just took off so fast. I keep saying, ‘we’re going to have down time,’ but the time just keeps filling up. And that’s OK.
Your daughter is 6 now. What is life like for her, with all her allergies?
She’s a very happy child. She eats a lot of chicken and sweet potatoes. She can eat a lot of fruit.
We are very active outdoors. She rides her bicycle every day and plays with the neighborhood kids. And then she has her food-allergy friends. That’s one of the great things about starting a support group, is that you can create that environment for them.
We are scheduled for monthly food challenges beginning in June. It will be our first time trying to find additional foods that she might be able to tolerate. There are some parts of her restrictions that are still difficult. She’s never had a real birthday cake. [The family finds allergy-safe alternatives, such as Dum Dum cakes.]
Your family is in the restaurant business. What improvements can be made in that industry?
We own a Japanese sushi bar. We are extremely high volume, so I see both perspectives. (I’m also an adult with a soy allergy.) Any type of legislation or movement in this area really needs to be in the best interest of both the food-allergic community and the restaurant industry. We as food-allergic individuals need to take the proper precautions and do the best that we can to make sure that we are provided a safe meal. From the restaurant perspective, we have a responsibility as well.
There is still room for a lot of improvement and that means educating the community as a whole and providing materials and resources. Moving forward we hope to see good things happen.
Honorees in The Allergy Advocates Series
Lisa Rutter: A Force of Good for Food Allergy
Cathy Owens: The Nurse Who’s the Allergic Student’s Protector
Jenny Sprague: Courageous Woman who Unites Allergy Bloggers
Gina Mennett Lee: A Voice of Reason for Food Allergy at School, Daycare
To submit an “Allergy Advocate” candidate for consideration, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell us what’s special about your nominee.