May is Asthma Awareness Month and I want to take the opportunity to share with you our testimony about how our family deals with food allergies and asthma. I hope to help educate church workers so that they understand the importance of knowing how to help the families they are ministering to. We, as a family, would like to promote allergy compassion because as you can tell, we as a family, all have allergy problems.
I’m calling it compassion because it is more than awareness that is needed. We can be aware of something and not have a heart for it. Genuine compassion is linked to the heart and does what it can to meet the needs of people where they are.
Meet my oldest son, Uno, he is 7 years old and has asthma, severe peanut, nut, and milk allergies. He is a special boy, as most first children are, he is who made my husband and I parents. We have a family history of allergies on both sides of our family. My husband and his family have the asthma. I have the milk allergy that manifests itself in eczema that breaks out in various places on my body. I also have idiopathic angioedema, which is allergy outbreaks of an unknown cause that can happen any time without warning.
As you can probably tell our son is wearing an oxygen tube across his nose, this picture was taken over a month ago. He had RSV when he was around 4 months old and was hospitalized and since that point he has struggled with asthma. It took many years to finally get his allergies figured out and his asthma in control.
Uno, at 7 years old, is very aware of when he is left out because someone has brought a treat that has milk in it. He is human and gets disappointed when he cannot take part in what the other kids are doing. Sometimes it means he has to sit out while others are playing a game because we notice he has begun to wheeze.
We first figured out about Uno’s milk allergy at church. When he began going to the 2-year-old class he began eating new snacks. When we came home we began noticing he was sick, sometimes spiking a 104 temperature, struggling to breathe, etc. It would take several days for him to recover, sometimes a trip to the ER, then we would return back to church on Wednesday night and the cycle would start all over again to where we would be better by Sunday and he would be down for the count again. The culprit: the new snacks, goldfish crackers! The nursery coordinator quickly labeled the box of goldfish with a tag that said “Do Not Give to Uno.” We stopped having complications on a regular basis.
While visiting my mother and grandmother in my hometown we learned Uno had an allergy to peanuts. I had a sneaking suspicion but it finally came to light on that trip. My grandmother’s aunt, in her late 70’s, took Uno up in her arms, he was probably 18 months old, and fed him some toast with peanut butter on it. I had been aware of his skin turning red when he was given peanut butter, and was noticing that the edges of his mouth were beginning to turn pink where the peanut butter had touched him. We were trying to tell her not to give him any more when she told us that he was fine. He was not fine. It was from that moment on that I refused to give him peanut butter at all. I always imagined that if peanut butter was making his skin red, what was it doing to him on the inside? His allergy was confirmed with a skin test, where immediately when pricked the area turned as large as a quarter.
Our son depends on other people at times to help him be safe from those things that would cause him harm. It hurts our hearts when people disregard his safety because it could potentially mean life or death for him. Uno when exposed to milk gets an irritation in his throat, and from that he begins to cough, and that is when his cough-induced asthma kicks in, and at times can overtake him in a matter of minutes. He can go from being fine to having pneumonia and needing around the clock treatments within a few hours. It is imperative for others to understand this about him and take precautionary measures to help and protect him. When it comes to nuts we do not know the outcome to his being exposed, neither do we want to find out! That is when allergy compassion makes a difference.
We would never tell a child to cross a four lane highway at rush hour, but we will sometimes expose allergic children to their food allergies. When we become aware and we are educated about these things then we become responsible, and when we become responsible, we become accountable. I urge all people, whether you have allergies in your family or not, put forth the extra effort to understand them.
We have noticed that some people could really care less about Uno’s allergies because they do not have allergies or have them in their family. Often times it feels like if it does not affect them then it does not mean anything to them. If it was their allergy or their family member with the allergy then I imagine that it would become a more prominent focus in their lives. They would have understanding and compassion toward others that struggle… or at least we hope they would.
We have found others with a heart full of compassion toward him and a willingness to learn about which foods contain milk and the importance not to have peanut butter around Uno at all. When a mom approaches me and asks me what type of snack Uno can have in their Sunday School class, then it blesses my heart and gives me confidence that that mother would take care of my child responsibly. Other people have been kind to ask us ahead of time what we can and cannot have so that when we go over to their home for a meal they have planned a meal for him or allowed me the opportunity to be able to bring something that he can eat safely.
Uno would change having asthma if he could and he would try peanut butter and sunflower seeds if he could, but God has allowed his allergies for a reason. We don’t understand why, many times we don’t like it, but it is our life. His food allergies have become who we are and what we eat. We are the people who do not eat pizza, or lunch meat, or most processed foods or bread. We stay inside during the windy days of Spring and Fall, and have him cover his mouth when he is out in cold air because these things effect his asthma. Our lives are different because of the allergies but we are better because of it.
We share these stories and thoughts for not only Uno’s sake but for other people. Maybe we would not have a heart or understanding for people who have physical problems and diseases if we did not face them regularly. This is not a pity party on our part, it is the origin of our education on this topic. I hope in the future we will be able to help you incorporate and maintain allergy awareness in a number of practical ways by teaching you to be more compassionate and aware of how to run a ministry that can minister to those with allergies.