Food Allergy Mom
Jackie’s son Jake was born premature on February 9, 2004 – just 1½ lbs and was 12 inches long. In an intensive care unit full of tiny premature babies, Jake was dubbed a “micro-preemie”.
Jake finally went home with his parents on original due date, April 21. He was 3 lbs, 9 ounces when he left the hospital. Doctors told Jackie and her husband they just had to get through the first two years. A cold in the first two years could be life-threatening due to the weakness of his immune system. On Sunday, Feb. 5, 2006 (four days shy of his second birthday), the family hosted friends for a Super Bowl get together. This was the night Jake had his first severe food allergic reaction.
“At the time, we didn’t know what it was but his face was swollen and red beyond recognition, he had hives all over his body and he was wheezing,” Jackie said.
Blood and skin tests at an allergist specializing in food allergies confirmed that Jake was allergic to peanuts, several tree nuts and sesame. Jake experienced a rare generalized reaction (hives all over his body) during the skin prick test to peanut, showing he was highly sensitive.
“When Jake was diagnosed with severe, life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame, I literally felt like I was run over by a truck. Food? Food could actually kill my child? How is that possible? I love food. Literally, love to talk about it, love to eat it, associate many fond memories with it and think about it a lot,” Jackie said.
“Fear becomes such a huge part of your life when your child is diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies. Isolation too. Because almost all of the social events in our society revolve around or involve food in some way and your fear of a life-threatening allergic reaction to some accidentally ingested food stops you from being able to participate in or enjoy those experiences.”
Jackie researched food allergies, soaking up all the knowledge she could to empower herself and her son. Jake’s brother Jeremy was born in October 2006. A year later, he showed signs of asthma. Jackie then learned he had severe asthma and he was allergic to egg as well as the same foods Jake was allergic to. Their brother Jarrett was born in October 2010. In August 2011, Jeremy was later diagnosed with celiac disease.
“If the food allergy diagnosis was like getting hit with a Mack truck, Jeremy’s Celiac diagnosis, in addition to managing that and asthma for both Jeremy and Jake was threatening to put me over the edge. I can’t explain the whirlwind of emotions I went through,” Jackie said.
Jackie herself was diagnosed with celiac disease in October 2011. As she describes it, she then decided to take the bull by the horns. She worked together with some fellow parents and their school principal to create a school food allergy policy and then enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education in New York to learn everything she could to work with families who have similar challenges and help restaurants become more allergy-friendly.
Jackie is now chronicling her journey on her blog, CAFÉ (Celiac and Allergy Friendly Epicurean). (http://jackieourman.com)