Avery’s 2½-year-old brother Nolan has severe food allergies, and when she came home that afternoon she told my husband and me that “her heart was smoking mad.” She was so upset by her classmates’ attitudes that she had marched right up to her teacher and told him that she wanted to give a speech to the class on allergies.
That evening, using a lot of information from our allergist, Avery and I created a factual, child-appropriate presentation, complete with an EpiPen demonstration. Avery would usually have been frightened to speak in public or to give an oral presentation.
Yet armed with her cue cards and a heart full of passion, she not only gave the presentation to one class but was soon recruiting teachers in the hallway, requesting that they also allow her to come into their classrooms.
To our amusement and pride, Avery has even made changes and additions to her allergy speech. For example, after having been asked why she lists peanuts and tree nuts separately, she added a sentence or two explaining the difference between a peanut (a legume) and a nut. She has also added a question and answer segment at the end of her presentation, and has even been known to quiz her teachers about what they have learned from her presentation.
To date, Avery has done about two dozen presentations, including one to our local anaphylaxis support group. Avery transferred schools last school semester, but continued to give allergy presentations, and has already lined some more up for this school year.
Our daughter has amazed my husband and me with her strength and the depth of her love for her brother. She was 8½ years old with no health issues when Nolan was born. At six months, her brother suffered his first of many allergic reactions, to a peanut butter-laced kiss.
His entire body was covered in a rash and hives, his eyes were bloodshot and then his face swelled until his eyes were shut, and he began to make a low grunting sound. What did I do? I stripped him down and quickly got him into the tub. Never having seen an allergic reaction or heard one described, it didn’t even cross my mind that this was what was happening.
Nolan’s allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, gelatin, peas and other legumes and shellfish. He has asthma as well as multiple environmental allergies, and has outgrown allergies to eggs and fish.
Avery, who is now 11 years old, has never once whined or complained about the changes or sacrifices our family has to make in order to keep her brother safe. I even overheard her whisper on Santa’s lap a few years ago that she wished most of all for her brother’s allergies to go away.
Avery understands the reality of allergies and asthma, having witnessed her brother’s many reactions. She is the first to quizzically examine a new food product, she re-reads ingredient labels, she will not hesitate to question a grownup if it concerns her brother’s safety, and she is the first to block her brother from a stranger’s touch (and if they do touch, they should be prepared for an articulate girl’s allergy and cross-contamination lecture).
But our daughter is also aware that those who don’t deal with allergies personally may not mean to be insensitive. She knows that our own family was also unaware of allergy issues until our little man came along. What Avery also knows is that we can choose to make a difference. Her immediate goal is to continue to educate others about allergies and how to recognize if someone is having a reaction and administer the auto-injector. She hopes that, by explaining the seriousness of allergies, her peers will choose to help protect those children with allergies and make choices which could keep them safe.
When she grows up, Avery plans to be an allergist. She even has the floor plans of her office all drawn up, complete with hand sanitizer dispensers and automatic doors, so no germs get on the door handles. Above all, Avery’s goal and dream is to care for her baby brother and to cure his allergies.
Michelle Chow and her family are navigating the world of food allergies in Ottawa.