By Melanie Lundheim
Peanuts can no longer kill my kids.
On January 3, 2014, my children Soren and Tessa Lundheim were the 100th and 101st patients to complete Dr. Whitney Molis’ peanut oral immunotherapy (OIT) program. Before treatment, invisible traces of peanut could – and did – trigger life-threatening anaphylactic reactions in Soren and Tessa.
From a young age, our kids were well aware they could die from exposure to peanut if they weren’t careful. Many times, they were star advocates for their own safety, turning down offers of peanut-containing treats, asking about ingredients in foods served to them, and making sure they had their life-saving medications with them at all times.
Despite our best efforts to keep Soren and Tessa safe, our kids have had numerous anaphylactic reactions to peanut between them over the years. At age five, Soren cried out to me for help just minutes after I tucked him into bed. When I got to his room, his upper lip was blue, and quickly swelled like a special effect in a movie. Thinking at first he was having an asthma attack, I gave him his inhaler, followed by a dose of antihistamine before finally injecting him with epinephrine. A couple of months later, Soren had another anaphylactic reaction at school, followed by a second, “biphasic,” reaction about 20 minutes later in the ambulance en route to the emergency room.
Tessa has had so many anaphylactic episodes inside and outside of school settings, she’s become an old pro. Visits with the school nurse, as well as the paramedics, had practically become routine for her. Tessa’s reactions typically started with tingling in her ears, followed by wheezing, sneezing, upper-body flushing and feelings of impending doom. Then she’d get an uncontrollably runny nose and full-body hives.
Soren and Tessa were so vulnerable to peanuts that they qualified for protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 at school. Their school district partnered with us to create and implement Section 504 plans for our kids. District administrators used the plans to ensure caregivers knew how to prevent, recognize and respond to peanut exposures in Soren and Tessa. These caregivers included teachers, school nurses, coaches, administrators, recess and lunch aides, chaperones, substitute teachers, custodians, volunteers, bus drivers and others.
The newly emerging approach for addressing peanut allergies - peanut OIT - was only being performed in clinical-trial settings at first. Given our kids’ history of asthma, as well as prior anaphylactic reactions to peanut, they didn’t qualify for the trials. Outside of trial settings, peanut OIT was only available from doctors in faraway states. I gave up hope of receiving local peanut OIT for my kids anytime soon and decided to move somewhere else with Soren and Tessa in order to get help.
It was then that I learned about Dr. Whitney Molis – an allergist administering peanut OIT in Des Moines, Iowa — just a four-hour drive away from our home. Under her expert care, Soren and Tessa began treatment. Despite the long drive, we looked forward to every appointment by keeping the end goal in mind.
Over the course of nearly six months, Soren and Tessa worked their way up to the final dose of 21 peanuts on January 3, 2014 – their peanut OIT graduation day. While the process certainly didn’t go without incident, our commitment to completing the program has been worth every reluctantly consumed peanut and every mile of the commute.
Friends can now invite Soren and Tessa to their homes without worry of exposing them to peanuts. They can go on field trips without specially trained chaperones, or me, at their side. At restaurants, cafeterias and ice cream parlors, Soren and Tessa can now choose any item on the menu — whether or not it was made on equipment or in a facility that processes peanuts. They can eat Blizzard® Treats, peanut-containing candies and assorted chocolates, just like other kids. It’s so freeing!
Over the holidays, we were able to attend family parties without having to ask hosts to put the bowls of peanuts away or tell us about ingredients used in the foods being served. Best of all, we can breathe easier knowing life-threatening peanut allergies are in the past for Soren and Tessa.