Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Reaction!

Well, it happened. I guess I always knew it would, sooner or later, but I had really hoped it would be later. Here's the whole story...

For me it started with a phone call as I was driving to my anaphylaxis support group meeting (I know, ironic, right?). I don't usually pick up my phone while I'm driving, but I was at a red light, so I figured I'd just make it quick. All Joel (my husband) said was, "Where are you? You have to turn around. Ella had a reaction, I gave her the EpiPen, she's doing better now, and the ambulance is on the way." So I hung up and started driving home. I'm not really sure how I made it the whole way without freaking out, actually. But I did. I met them at the emergency room, and of course by that time, Ella was ok. But I had to see it with my own eyes.

For Ella, it started at dinner time. She started wheezing and coughing, then turning red all over her face, neck, chest and back. Her mouth and cheeks were swollen. And the wheezing was worse than any asthma attack she had ever had. So Joel grabbed the EpiPen, grabbed Ella, and jabbed it into her thigh. She screamed, as this was the first time she'd ever had the EpiPen and I don't think she realized until that moment that there was a needle inside. But within seconds, she was able to breathe better and she calmed down. Joel immediately called 9-1-1 and the paramedics were there within 3 minutes (awesome!). They told Joel to give her some Benylin, and then some Ventalin (from her puffer) in the ambulance, as she was still wheezing. By the time she got to emerg, she was doing much better.

So we all spent the evening in the emergency room, where they kept her for observation for a few hours. Keeping the kids entertained was quite the task, especially as bedtime approached and then sailed on by...we didn't get the kids home to bed until after 9pm. But the nurses and doctors and paramedics were amazing. The kids got teddy bears from the paramedic, and the nurse gave Ella a little TinkerBell game.

As terrible as the experience was, there were a few good things that came of it. We now know that we can handle it - Joel was amazing (I'm pretty sure I would have freaked out, but he was so calm and did everything right). We now know that she can survive it. We now know the benefit of having an emergency plan on the fridge - Joel used it, and the paramedics said that it was great that we were so educated and prepared (yay us!). And most of all, we now know that it is SO important to be prepared for an emergency AT ALL TIMES, even when we're certain the food is "safe."

We're still not 100% clear what caused the reaction. Ella was eating leftovers from the night before, which were made at home with safe ingredients. We think that some peanut residue must have been on a Slurpee cup that Joel was drinking from while he fed the kids dinner. It could be as simple as someone eating a Reese Peanut Butter Cup while they restock the Slurpee cups, then Joel touching the cup and then Ella's food. That's why cross-contamination is such an important issue. And that's why I look like a crazy woman anytime we eat at a restaurant - wiping down Ella, the table, the chair, the cup, etc, etc, etc.

Anyway, bottom line: Ella's ok.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Store with a Cause...and Peanut-Free Ice Cream!

Last night I visited PricePro for the first time, and it was AWESOME.

It's kind of a mix between a grocery store, a Costco and a furniture store. They sell lots of great stuff, like furniture, warehouse-pack sized foods, bakery items, fruit & veggies, clothes, shoes, DVDs, regular groceries, frozen foods, etc, etc. Everything you need!

But the best part is that they are part of a non-profit program called Welcome Home, which is a long-term residential treatment program for men who struggle with substance abuse. The purpose of the PricePro store is "to provide Welcome Home participants with the opportunity to acquire proper life skills, social skills, and job skills. They learn how to become valuable employees or how to successfully manage their own business." Very cool!

OK, here's the second best part: they have the most amazing selection of Chapman's peanut/nut-free ice cream that I have ever seen. The ice cream comes in 2L and 4L sizes, and in at least 9 or 10 different flavours. On top of that, they also have peanut/nut-free ice cream novelties, like ice cream sandwiches, ice cream bars, popsicles, cones, etc. And they even have peanut/nut-free sugar-free treats (although I'm not sure why you would want sugar-free ice cream, but to each his own). I got the butterscotch ripple.
I will definitely go back to PricePro. I think you should, too! It's in Surrey at 6911 King George Hwy, open 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Training is Key

I recently received an EpiPen trainer, and once I had it, I wondered why I didn't get one sooner. (As in, right when Ella was first diagnosed. In fact, I often wonder why they don't give you one right after the allergy test is done.) For those of you who don't know what a "trainer" is, it's an EpiPen that contains no needle or drug, but works just the same as a "real" EpiPen. So it allows you to practice using an EpiPen, so that if an emergency arrises, you'll be ready.

Aside from being able to practice myself, I have found the trainer SO useful for teaching other people how to use it. When I first showed it to people, most of them didn't know how to use it - including those I had previously showed the real EpiPen to, and who I leave Ella with on a regular basis. Scary! But having the trainer available has allowed me to give them a much more hands-on training, so that now I am assured that they will be able to use the real thing if they ever need to. I actually carry it around in my purse, and I'm surprised at how often people are interested in checking it out.

So, perhaps you're wondering where to get one. If you have a kid with an allergy, or if you are a caretaker of a kid with an allergy, or if you are an organization which cares for kids (like a church or a preschool), you NEED and EpiPen trainer. The best place to get one is the EpiPen website - all you have to do is sign up for the "EpiPen Resource Centre" and you can order training materials totally FREE! In fact, you can order one Patient Starter Kit every year if you want. The kit includes a training DVD, a quick reference guide, and an EpiPen trainer. If you are an organization, you can get a bigger kit which also includes posters.

Just as an extra note, the EpiPen website also offers some other great stuff. You can set up a reminder service for up to six EpiPens, so you will get an email when they are about to expire. There's also a recipe centre, for allergen-free meals and treats.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Easter Candy!

I must admit that I was not looking forward to Easter this year. Not because I don't want to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, but because I didn't think I'd be able to find any safe candy. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.

On a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I thought I would wander through the Easter section, just to see what was there. I didn't expect to find anything that Ella could eat. But to my delight, they had almost a whole aisle filled with "no peanut" chocolate! Chocolate bunnies, chocolate kittens, chocolate wiener dogs, chocolate chickens, chocolate princesses, chocolate monster name it, they had it! I was in heaven! The only problem was choosing what to buy.

I ended up picking a chocolate bunny, a box of small caramel filled bunnies, some rabbit shaped ju jubes, some jelly beans and a chocolate Iron Man (nothing says "Happy Easter" like biting into the head of a chocolate robot-man).

So, thank you Wal-Mart. Now if only you could do the same at Valentine's Day and Christmas.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All About Restaurants

When Ella was first diagnosed PA, we didn't go out to eat anywhere for a while. I just couldn't handle the thought of someone else preparing her food, and not being able to read the ingredient lists myself.

But we're getting a little more adventurous, and I've started doing a lot more research. So in case you are in the same boat as us, wondering what's safe and what's not, I'd like to share the fruits of my labour with you.

Remember, this list is just what I've learned so far, as I keep learning every day. But at least it's a starting point if you're new at this whole allergy thing!

Safe Places
Unsafe Places
  • Dairy Queen (peanuts & nuts everywhere!)
  • Tim Hortons (bakery environment: high possibility of cross-contamination)
  • A&W (most burger sauces have "may contain" warning, and they could easily end up on the surfaces where they prepare other foods)
  • Burger King (turns out that many of the foods cooked in the deep fryer "may contain" nuts or peanuts, which makes everything cooked there unsafe)
  • Any bakeries (way too much risk of cross-contamination)
  • Any ice cream places (hardly any ice cream is safe)
"Sit Down" Restaurants
  • Red Robin (no allergen info, but we've talked to them and they're good)
  • Boston Pizza (no allergen info, but we've talked to them and they're good)
Tips for Eating Out
  • I always wipe Ella's hands & face, then the table & chair, with a baby wipe as soon as we sit down
  • Of course, we always always have her emergency kit
  • If I haven't been able to read a full ingredient list online beforehand, I have an in-depth conversation with the waitress, who usually checks with the kitchen staff as well
  • We always stay away from desserts, even if they appear peanut-free, because they are prepared near other desserts which probably have nuts/peanuts in them
  • My biggest tip: do your research!

I hope this has helped! Unfortunately, most of the research I've done has been for fast-food places, but that has more to do with the fact that we're dining out with two toddlers, rather than the peanut allergy.

I just wish more restaurants would publish their allergen information online. It's so much easier than talking to the staff, and I feel much more comfortable if I can read it myself. I have started emailing restaurants to request this info, but it will take a lot more people doing the same thing if we want them to change.

If you know of any other "safe" places, leave a comment!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Another Trip to the ER

So, we got to go to the ER again the other day. This time in an ambulance. Ella thought it was all very exciting. Here's what happened...

We were at a friend's place in New Westminster when Ella started coughing and wheezing. I knew it wasn't an allergy attack because she didn't show any skin symptoms (hives, redness, swelling), which almost always come at the beginning of an allergy attack. Nope, it was her asthma again. But this time we weren't at home, so we didn't have her puffer.

I watched her for a couple of minutes, because I know that she can usually get over the wheezing on her own within half an hour, even without her puffer. But the wheezing kept getting worse. And worse. So I decided to call 911, just to be on the safe side. I didn't want it to get to the point where she couldn't breathe at all.

The fire truck arrived, and then the ambulance, and she was still wheezing (although not as bad), so they decided that she should go to the hospital. Ella was very excited about this, because it meant a ride in the ambulance. The whole way there she kept asking what everything was, and where we were going, and on and on and on. (So by this time, I knew she was fine.)

But we got there and the doctor checked her over and then we left. No big deal. But I did learn a valuable lesson...never leave home without her puffer!

My emergency kit keeps getting bigger and bigger (actually, it doesn't all fit in my little pencil case anymore, so I need to get a new bag). Just in case you're wondering, it now contains:
  • EpiPen
  • Emergency Plan
  • Benedryl & spoon
  • Puffer & chamber & mask

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Safe Snacks at Starbucks!

I love Starbucks. I love their coffee beans (I have three different types machines at home just for making coffee), I love their espresso drinks (caramel latte is my favourite), I love the atmosphere in their stores, and up until recently I loved their baked goods.

Then came Ella's peanut allergy, and the days of going out on a mommy-daughter date to Starbucks and sharing a banana loaf or ginger molasses cookie went out the window.

Until now!

Starbucks has recently started selling Lucy's cookies. They are free of wheat, gluten, dairy milk, butter, eggs, casein, peanuts and tree nuts. Which, I admit, made me a little skeptical at first, but we tried them anyway. And they are AMAZING. So yummy! And it was less than $2 for a bag of 4 cookies, which is totally reasonable.

So, thank you , Starbucks! Because now I can once again go out for coffee with the kids in tow, and there's something for them to eat and keep them busy while I get 5 minutes of peace.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Celebrities With Peanut Allergies

I was curious to see if there were any famous people with peanut allergies, so I decided to Google it. Turns out there are...
  • Joshua Jackson (OK, he's allergic to tree nuts, not peanuts, but close enough)
  • Serena Williams
  • Ray Romano
  • Alex Kapranos (from Franz Ferdinand)
  • Kelis
  • Robert Kennedy Jr's son, Conor
  • Tom Poti (NHL player)
  • Clay Aiken (tree nuts, not peanuts)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dr. Oz Talks About Anaphylaxis

I must admit, I've never actually watched The Dr. Oz Show. But my mom mentioned the other day that he had done a segment on anaphylaxis, so I thought I should check it out. Here's the video:
Overall, I thought it was pretty good. I love that he's creating awareness and teaching people what an anaphylactic reaction looks like, and what to do about it.

However, I also had a couple of issues with it.

First, he made it look like the only symptoms of a reaction are the skin symptoms (hives, redness, swelling), the mouth symptoms (tingling), and the lung symptoms (wheezing, coughing, hoarseness). He didn't even mention the gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, pain) or the cardiovascular symptoms (weak pulse, paleness, lethargy, unconsciousness). And he said that the breathing problems were the most serious, but the rapid drop in blood pressure is also a major factor in whether it's going to kill you.

Also, I don't think he should have had her hold the EpiPen like a pen. I know you don't need to apply a whole lot of pressure to get the needle to deploy (you really don't need to stab the person), but holding it like a pen doesn't give you much control over the device. It's much better to hold it in your fist, like so:

Anyway, creating public awareness for anaphylaxis is awesome. Good job, Dr. Oz.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Baked Goods!

Do you know how hard it is to find baked good that are peanut-free? Near impossible. In fact, most of the time I don't even bother walking through the bakery section, because it just depresses me. But I got a tip (from one of the great moms who was at my anaphylaxis group meeting) that Superstore had some. So, naturally, I drove out to Superstore the first chance I got.

And she was right! It was wonderful. I almost didn't know what to pick, but this is what I got:

And check it out...peanut-free!

I have to give props to Superstore. They have the largest selection of peanut-free stuff that I have seen so far. Even their "no name" candy (like jelly beans and jujubes) is peanut-free. And baked goods!

I love cookies...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Nut-Free Chocolate!

As anyone with a peanut allergy would know, it is really hard to find candy and chocolate that is safe. Basically, I've found my options to be limited to snack-size Smarties, Aero, Coffee Crisp, and Kit Kat. And after a while, that gets really boring.

Needless to say, I was delighted to find a chocolate store that specializes in nut-free treats: Vermont Nut Free Chocolates. We ordered a box of assorted chocolates and some wrapped chocolates for Christmas. And they were DELICIOUS. Just as good as Purdy's, or any other similar chocolates, and priced about the same, too. And shipping wasn't too expensive, either.

I will definitely be ordering more. Not only do they make amazing boxed chocolates, but they also have candy, baking chocolates, fun shapes, and things for every different holiday.

My First Meeting

So, I attended my first "Metro Vancouver Anaphylaxis Group" meeting this week (the group is coordinated through Anaphylaxis Canada, which I talked about in this post).


I got to meet a bunch of other parents of kids with peanut (and other) allergies, and talk about anything and everything to do with the allergy. We discussed where to buy peanut-free foods, where to take the kids out to eat, vacationing, daycare, school, EpiPens, swimming...and so much more. It was so great to hear what other parents are doing to keep their kids safe. I got so many useful tips and ideas that I hadn't even thought about before!

I highly recommend joining this group. I can't wait for the next meeting!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Airline Travel Becomes Safer

Thanks to Transport Canada, I will soon feel more comfortable about taking Ella on a plane!
According to this article in the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Transport Agency has ruled that individuals with a peanut/nut allergy should be considered "disabled" and therefore special accommodations must made to address their needs. Basically this means that a peanut/nut-free buffer zone has to be established on the airplane. The ruling only applies to Air Canada, but other airlines usually follow suit in similar situations.

Ideally, I would love peanut-free fights, but this "buffer zone" idea is at least a step in the right direction.