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For These Kids, Food Allergies Lead To Struggle, Opportunity

three kids with allergy wrist bands

Living with food allergies isn't easy. Since I was young, I've had to read every label and carry an EpiPen and Benadryl wherever I go. The number of kids with food allergies has increased 18 percent since I was young, in the late-1990s. Back then, I didn't know anyone else who was allergic to nuts.

But in the Taylor family alone, there are four kids with multiple food allergies.

"When I get home, the first thing I have to do is get a Clorox wipe and wipe down my phone," Wendy Taylor said.

Wendy says having children with multiple food allergies makes seemingly simple tasks much more involved, especially since three of her children are in the growing population of people with multiple, airborne allergies. As we drove to their house, she explained what it is like for her family to go grocery shopping.

"We grab a cart, wipe down the cart, wipe down our hands, and then we do our grocery shopping and read every label every time, you know, things change, Put it all in the car, take it home, and wipe it all down again," she said.

The allergic reactions vary from hives to trouble breathing. "I read every label even if it comes in the house I read every label that I eat," Wendy's daughter Miranda, said.

Next to their food pantry is a white board with a chart of each family member's name and a list of allergens. It is one foot long and wide, and reminds me of an extremely intense bingo card.

As each kid listed their allergies--from the more common peanuts, tree nuts and eggs, to the less common paprika and Brussels sprouts--I couldn't help but feel grateful that I only had an allergy to nuts. It seemed like such a big hassle when I was little, but it was nothing compared to this.

But the Taylor kids' views surprised me.

"I take my food allergies as a learning opportunity and an opportunity to help other people and to give people advice," Audrey said. "I kind of wonder what it would be like, the opportunities that I would have, but my family takes care of me and we do things our own way which is kind of fun."

I also spoke with the Hitchcock family. Zach and Abby understand allergies are serious, but having done this their whole lives gives them confidence.

"You have to be careful with them and it's kind of hard for kids with food allergies because you have to be making sure everything you eat is safe and that you won't get an allergic reaction because it isn't fun," 8-year-old Abby said.

Her brother Zach--a fifth grader who is allergic to dairy, eggs, soy, and all types of nuts--has a different take.

"Having a food allergy also brings me special talents, like being able to sing really well, play guitar, and dance to Michael Jackson," he said. "I can do the moonwalk."

I think what I learned from these conversations is that community can significantly transform an otherwise frustrating and scary situation into, for Audrey, a chance to help people, or for Zach, special talents, like a super cool dance move.

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