Andrea is mom to “two beautiful daughters”—Danielle (2 years) and Talia (5 months). Her eldest is allergic to peanuts, whitefish and trout. Her youngest has no confirmed allergies to date. UPDATE: As of June 1, 2018, Andrea has moved into an official role at CAAIF as Managing Director. Even more exciting, under Andrea’s leadership, CAAIF has decided to collaborate with AllergyBites to bring a Canadian version of this Australian fundraiser to Canada. Find out more at the end of her interview!
AllergyBites: Can you describe the first time you realized (or suspected) Danielle had a food allergy?
Andrea Waserman: It was really shocking as I had been giving her peanut butter from a very young age, but at some point she stopped liking it so I stopped giving it to her. When she was about 18 months old, I gave her a taste of Bamba (similar to Cheesies, but with peanuts) and she didn’t like it—which was really surprising to me. About 20 minutes later, she started breaking out in hives. After they resolved, I actually had a couple of minutes to sit down, breathe, and properly process what had happened. I was in complete disbelief.
AB: Has your child ever experienced an anaphylactic reaction?
AW: Thankfully she hasn’t, but we don’t go anywhere without multiple EpiPens just in case.
AB: After the diagnosis, what did your grieving process look like? Do you feel that you’re in the “acceptance” phase now?
AW: My grieving process involved A LOT of guilt. I kept thinking that if I had continued to give her peanut butter, she wouldn’t have developed an allergy—even though I know this to not be true. To some extent, I’ve come to terms with her allergies but I don’t really think I’ll ever be in the “acceptance” phase per se. I remain hopeful she’ll outgrow at least some of her food allergies, namely peanut. I also look forward to continued breakthroughs in food allergy research.
AB: What are your biggest challenges as the mom of a food-allergic kid?
AW: My biggest challenge is making sure she is safe, without feeling like I am limiting her. Straddling that balance can be difficult as it often entails dealing with the unknown. The possibility of an anaphylactic reaction is terrifying.
AB: How has your child dealt with her food allergies?
AW: Considering her favourite song is Rafi’s “Peanut Butter Sandwich,” I don’t think she fully understands her allergy. That being said, one of her first words was “EpiPen” and she can readily identify one. We’re also starting to read a lot more educational children’s books, like “Allie the Allergic Elephant” and “The Peanut-Free Cake” so it will be interesting to see how her understanding evolves.
AB: Tell me about The Canadian Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Foundation.
AW: CAAIF is an incredible foundation whose sole mission is to fund Canadian researchers in the fields of allergy, asthma and immunology. Thus far, they have given out over a million dollars in educational and research grants in the areas of food allergy and anaphylaxis. It’s really refreshing to be part of an organization where you know exactly where the money is going. I got involved because my mother-in-law (Dr. Susan Waserman) is the president, and she had asked for my help with their gala. After Danielle was diagnosed with her allergy, I really felt helpless. But getting involved and supporting CAAIF has been an incredibly empowering experience. I feel like I am able to make a small difference in an important area that’s become that much more relevant to me since Danielle’s diagnosis.
AB: What’s it like having a Dr. Susan Waserman as your mother-in-law?
AW: I feel incredibly fortunate to have someone as wonderful, caring and brilliant as Susan as my mother-in-law. Since working with her on the CAAIF Gala, I’ve been able to see what an important role research plays in both how we understand allergies and the ever-changing way in which it is treated. It’s truly inspiring to see how committed she is to her patients, research and philanthropy.
AB: CAAIF doesn’t get as much attention as some of the bigger charities. But based on what you’ve told us, it really should. For those interested in donating to CAAIF, what are their options?
AW: That’s a great question 🙂 You can always make a donation directly from the CAAIF website. We also have an upcoming gala and auction on Thursday, October 12 that everyone in the community is welcome to attend.
The keynote speaker is Bruce Croxon (former Dragon on CBC’s Dragon’s Den) who will be giving an interesting perspective both as a venture capitalist and an allergy parent. We also have some great live auction items, such as WestJet roundtrip airfare for two (to any destination), Leafs tickets, Raptors tickets, hotels, restaurants, and jewellery from Mark Lash.
AB: Tell us about the Top 10 Challenge, and why CAAIF and AllergyBites have teamed up to bring it to Canada.
AW: Kathleen (the allergy mom behind AllergyBites) came up with the idea after profiling Sarah Gray of ausEE Inc., and approached me about possibly doing a Canadian version as a fundraiser for CAAIF—and I loved the idea. Both the opportunity to work with Kathleen and the chance to inform the public about the amazing research that CAAIF is funding. We have given out over a million dollars in research grants to the top Canadian researchers in the fields of allergy, asthma and immunology. As a food allergy (and suspected asthma) mom, it makes me feel empowered knowing that the work I am doing could one day lead to a cure and to better treatment for my daughter. I’m really looking forward to collaborating with Kathleen and AllergyBites on this exciting initiative, and getting a chance to meet more members of the community.
Friendly. Supportive. Encouraging.
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