Stephanie Lowe is the mom of 3 kids—only one of whom has food allergies. Her eldest is allergic to dairy, egg, peanuts and tree nuts, and also has Celiac disease.
AllergyBites: Can you describe the first time you realized (or suspected) they had a food allergy?
Stephanie Lowe: We suspected very early on (I would say before 2 months) that there was something going on. Throughout his first year, he never slept more than 45 minutes at a time, and even then, he usually had to be on someone. We couldn’t put him down or he would just cry and cry. His little baby skin was a mess. I won’t go into the GI issues, but there were a lot. He was our first kiddo, though, so while we asked questions, the doctors pretty much brushed off our concerns. I was nursing and at one point removed dairy and that didn’t work. So I tried to remove eggs and that didn’t either. When he turned one, we did what was recommended, and tried to introduce dairy and egg a few days apart. Looking back now, he had anaphylactic reactions to both. After the egg reaction, we called our pediatrician and were immediately prescribed epinephrine and were given a referral to an allergist for further testing.
AB: Has your child ever experienced an anaphylactic reaction? If yes, what happened?
SL: Aside from the initial reactions that sent us to an allergist, we did have an anaphylactic reaction just this past summer. We were on a quick overnight trip right before the kids started back to school. He was inadvertently given the wrong cup (which was opaque and had a lid) that had milk in it. We observed for a minute or two, and 2 body systems were involved so we followed his action plan and administered epinephrine and call an ambulance. After a few breathing treatments, and 4 hours at the hospital, he was released and we continued with the trip at his request.
AB: After the diagnosis, what did your grieving process look like? Do you feel that you’re in the “acceptance” phase now?
SL: I don’t think it was grieving at first. In the beginning, it was purely about survival! I don’t think the loss of “normal” hit until much later. We are 11 years into this, and there are moments I still think “This stinks for him,” but he’s such an amazing kid that he doesn’t let it stop him.
AB: What are your biggest challenges as the mom of a food-allergic kid?
SL: I think the biggest challenge is striking a balance between safety and living life. It’s hard to find that balance at the beginning, when things all seem so scary and overwhelming. Long term is managing the relationships. Family, friends, dating. It’s easy to educate those who are a bit removed from the situation, but I’ve found it more difficult for those closer who you really think should “get it” but sometimes don’t.
AB: How has your child dealt with their food allergies?
SL: He carries his own stuff with him now, like his medications, snacks and drinks, and his school lunches . He knows what his emergency action plan is, and he’s started refilling and picking up his prescriptions as well the last few months. We’re working on more time in the kitchen together as that’s a skill he’s GOT to master! The first meal he made was shrimp over rice with broccoli. We try and add pieces bit by bit.
AB: How often did you eat out before the food allergy diagnosis? How often have you eaten out since?
SL: I can’t really say because, with him being our first, life changed dramatically when he came along. But it wasn’t allergy related at all—it was all driven by becoming a parent.
AB: Where are your go-to SAFE eating spots in Toronto and/or beyond?
SL: We are from Ohio so we have several places we visit regularly. Chipotle and Red Robin are two chains that are typically able to accommodate his needs and can be found in most of the places we travel to. Another one we frequent in the D.C. and Boston areas is Legal Sea Foods—in fact, the last time we were in Boston (which was only a 3-day trip), we ate there 3 times! We have started to journey to Toronto bi-annually, and one of the biggest draws for us is Sorelle and Co.
AB: Can you tell me why Legal Sea Food’s makes you feel safe?
SL: I think any restaurant with good policy and allergy management is key to dining out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a drive through or a fine dining establishment, if you have good policies that’s half the battle. Legal Sea Foods has a long standing history of great allergy policy which makes me at ease when we eat there. We still do all the usual like calling ahead and asking the questions we always do because as we all know, things can and do change from time to time. Sorelle and Co. also makes us feel safe because they are so very allergy aware and free of our allergens. They are kind and warm as well, so we just love going and usually stop at least twice when in town.
AB: What are some fun facts about your food-allergic kiddo?
SL: He’s the most kind young man I know who loves baseball, reading and school. He’s absolutely in love with video games and likes to travel.
AB: Tell me about Turn It Teal.
SL: Turn it Teal was started 5 years ago now. To help raise food allergy awareness, we light as many buildings, bridges, monuments—anything with lights, really—in teal. Many of our lightings happen during Food Allergy Awareness Week, which is in May. We have a lot of help in Canada from our friends at the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative to turn parts of Toronto, Niagara, Mississauga, Edmonton, and Welland teal as well! Our goal is to literally shine a light to bring awareness about food allergies. We are currently planning for the 2018 lighting season, so if you have ideas, please feel free to send us an email. We look into each and every suggestion we get!