Living Well with My Food Allergies

Guest post by Joshua Sylvester

When I was two and a half years old I tried a peanut for the first time. I began to vomit and my face and eyes became swollen to the point that I could barely see. My mom immediately took me to the doctor’s office where I learned that I had a life-threatening anaphylactic allergy to peanuts.

I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and was the first kid in the town to be diagnosed with a food allergy. The concept of a food allergy was foreign to some people in this town and when it came time for me to attend kindergarten, my local public school did not want me to attend due to my food allergy. I was then homeschooled through kindergarten and first grade. During this time my parents used available FARE resources to convince the school to let me attend. It wasn’t until my second grade year that I was able to go to school, but when I did it was only for half days and I would leave before lunch. After further training using FARE standards, I was finally able to attend school full time my third-grade year.

That year I also traveled to Washington D.C. for FARE’s Kids’ Congress on Capitol Hill. I got to speak with many lawmakers from Oklahoma about advocating a bill that would establish voluntary national guidelines for managing students with food allergies. While I was waiting to speak with one Oklahoma senator, the secretary in his office was eating peanuts and even offered me some as well. That experience really illustrated to me how important it is to have organizations like FARE to inform and educate individuals about the dangers of food allergies. While in D.C. I was also able to interact with other food allergy kids for the first time through the activities that FARE had organized for us. It was great to really meet individuals my age and older who understood the struggles of living with food allergies.

In middle school I was diagnosed with anaphylactic allergies to tree nuts to add to my existing peanut allergy. This was tough at first because I had been hoping to outgrow my peanut allergy and with this additional diagnosis it became clear that I would not outgrow them. However, I became more involved in the FARE community and traveled to a FARE Teen Summit in Washington D.C. During the Summit, FARE brought in motivational speakers and people who talked about their food allergy experiences. I remember leaving the Summit feeling empowered, more comfortable in my own skin, and confident in my ability to handle my allergy.

I made the transition to high school smoothly and without many issues from my food allergies. By this point my school system had implemented many of FARE’s recommendations for handling students with food allergies. Some younger students with food allergies began to start attending my school system and their parents were very much appreciative of the way the school handled food allergies.

Then came time for the transition to college, which is scary enough without having to worry about where you’re going to eat. However, I’m now in my sophomore year, and my college has been very accommodating to my allergy. Last summer I studied abroad in Germany and was nervous about living with food allergies in a foreign country.

However, FARE was there for me and had an interactive .pdf on their website that allowed me to print off food allergy information in German. I was able to carry chef cards with all of pertinent food allergy information and could show them to waiters and waitresses at restaurants to ensure that I got safe food.

There are always challenges, whether it be explaining my allergy to friends, dating, or simply eating out, but FARE has helped me to handle these challenges. I currently serve on a FARE Community Engagement Council in Dallas and work with high school students preparing to make the jump to college. I really enjoy this position and it has increased my appreciation for the great lengths that FARE goes to make kids with food allergies feel comfortable in their own skin. I hope that you will donate to FARE today to keep up these great programs that help kids with food allergies lead better lives.

 

In cities small and large, more than 15 million Americans are reaching the next milestone on their food allergy journey. You can help them access the tools they need. Stories like Joshua’s are possible because generous donors like you support FARE’s commitment to food allergy research, education, advocacy and awareness. Continue this progress by making a gift today that will be doubled up to $100,000 thanks to a matching gift from FARE's Board of Directors.

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