Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Event is more than a walk in the park

My family and I will soon be taking steps toward finding a cure for food allergies. On Nov. 5, we will be lacing up our walking shoes so that one day my 8-year-old son Joseph and an estimated 15 million Americans, including about 6 million other children like him, might be able to live a life free from the danger of dying from the ingestion of one speck of food. The morning we spend taking a pleasant fall walk with our team Nuttin' We Can't Overcome will contribute to research that could find a way to protect my son from an anaphylactic reaction. Currently, the only protection is avoidance of seemingly ubiquitous allergens and, should a reaction occur, a lifesaving epinephrine auto-injector.

The money raised during the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) Walk for Food Allergy will be used to fund education, advocacy, research and awareness efforts. We are lucky to live in an area where some of the groundbreaking research is happening. Joseph and I recently had the privilege of attending a talk by Wesley Burks, MD, Kiser-Arena professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke University Medical Center. Joseph was excited to attend a grownup presentation by a leading food allergy scientist.

Burks outlined the research scientists are exploring, such as oral immunotherapy, sublingual immunotherapy and the Chinese herbs FAHF-2. Joseph, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy, conscientiously wrote down some of the scientific words with a note to "look up later." But while he didn't understand all of the scientific terms, he did understand that there are several intelligent scientists working hard to help make his world safer.

The statistic that stuck with Joseph the most after the presentation at Duke was the fact that there has been an 18 percent increase in the prevalence of children with food allergies from 1997 to 2007 (Branum, 2009 Pediatrics). He said, "Wow, that's a lot more people like me." Food-allergic kids like Joseph latch on to those kinds of statistics because they so often feel isolated and find comfort knowing that there are other people like them. It helps for Joseph to see proof that he is not the only kid who can't eat at a pizzeria, sample Halloween candy while trick-or-treating or taste a free cookie from the bakery. When we participate in the FAAN Walk for Food Allergy, Joseph gets to see that proof by the hundreds.

Joseph gets to be part of a fun event with other kids, who have food allergies, just like him. He gets to experience the camaraderie of a group of wonderful kids, who just happen to have food allergies. Those kids get to feel special while hundreds of people clap for them, knowing that everyone is there to support them. I'm thankful for the wonderful members of our local support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely), who make this event a success. Our family is excited to walk because we know we are contributing to something that could help our son and millions more, and we are thrilled to help give him the special kind of comfort and joy the walk gives him on that day.

After 31 of 43 walks throughout the United States, the FAAN Walk for Food Allergy is more than halfway to its fundraising goal of $3 million. I am proud to be a small part of this effort. Will you be participating in your city? What part of the walk is most special to you?

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