Saturday, October 31, 2009

How to Have a Safe Halloween Party

When I have gotten notes from my daughter's teachers in the past announcing a party in her classroom, I usually sigh and get an anxious feeling. As a parent of a child with food allergies to beef, milk, eggs, peanuts, sesame, mustard and birch pollen which is on fresh apples, there are always concerns when it comes to "parties" at school.

And this year when I found out about the Halloween party, the concerns of what foods might be served were of course on my mind. However, this year was very different from any other parties we have participated in at school.

The other parents who were helping to coordinate the party called me to see what foods would be safe to serve at the party. It was so refreshing to have so much cooperation in planning a safe party. I felt as if I was not alone in my efforts to keep my daughter safe, but that I was on a team with other parents.

After the coordinator purchased the safe foods I suggested for the party, I went over the ingredients with her over the phone. This is an extra precaution as many companies who's ingredients have been safe in the past, can add warnings on the next label which state they now are producing milk and nut products on the same equipment.

I also asked the coordinator to please ask everyone to wash their hands prior to the party. Hand washing is very important when it comes to children with food allergies. Even a trace of an unsafe food touching a safe food could cause an allergic reaction.

You can have a safe party at school if you coordinate with everyone involved. After giving the coordinator the list of safe foods, going over the ingredients and stressing the need for hand washing, the party was a success in every way.

I also made "safe" Rice Krispy Treats for the party which was a huge hit.

When other people understand the importance of having safe foods at parties and the seriousness of food allergies it is truly a gift.

My daughter had a wonderful time at the party and came home with nothing but great things to say. She was able to comfortably eat all of the foods that were served without fear of an allergic reaction.

What price can you put on feeling safe? For my daughter this was...priceless.

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.

Debra Denhart

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Asthma Triggers and Treatments

The common cold is something every child experiences. A runny nose and a cough can be an inconvenience for  parents as well as uncomfortable for any child.

When you have a child with asthma, the treatment is a little more involved than just taking a cold medicine. Both of my daughters have asthma and when they get a cold it can easily develop into something more serious. In the past, my oldest daughter had a cold which developed into pneumonia quite quickly.

I used to be very skeptical about all of the asthma medications our allergist recommended for the maintenance of their asthma. However,  I have become more aware of how even the common cold can develop into something more serious in children with asthma. I have found that the asthma medications do make a difference for my children along with regular visits to our chiropractor.

My girls are also more sensitive to asthma triggers such as strong odors, smoke, cold air, and dust to name a few. On one occasion, my daughter had a very serious reaction to the smell of smoke at a friend's house.

My friend had been preparing a beautiful brunch and had accidently burned the pancakes. She had all of the fans on over the stove in order to get rid of the smoke odor but the odor still lingered. We all know how strong the smell of smoke can be.

Within 20 minutes of arriving at my friend's house, Carlese said she needed her inhaler. I gave her an Albuterol inhaler treatment but it didn't seem to help.

 Fortunately at the brunch, also in attendance were two doctors and an asthma nurse. They observed Carlese's breathing  and she was retracting, when the chest appears to be pulling in and out or you can see the ribs when you are inhaling and exhaling. This is a very serious condition.

The asthma nurse said she would call 911 because Carlese was getting worse and was really struggling to breathe. We called 911 and when the paramedics arrived, they did a pulse oximeter reading, this  measures the normal oxygen saturation level in the blood. Carlese's reading was only 84. This is a very low reading. A normal range is 95 -100.

She ended up going to the Yale New Haven Children's Emergency Room and stayed at Yale for three days because of this incident.

Before this incident, I was holding off on giving my girls too many asthma medications, but since the smoke episode which was a very serious asthma trigger, we have a great Asthma Action Plan in place.

These are some things I have found to be very successful in keeping my girls well and out of the hospital:

1. Flow meters are a must for children with asthma. They allow you to establish good and bad flow meter ranges for your child. After establishing the appropriate flow meter ranges for your child, you are more prepared to know what action you should take when your child is having difficulty breathing.  Your allergist can help you establish a customized Asthma Action Plan.

2. We have also established a maintenance asthma medication of Flovent 44 mg during the year using the spacer, two puffs twice a day.

3. When my girls are sick we use Flovent 220 mg using the spacer, two puffs twice a day. Another option is using Pulmicort 0.5mg/2ml vials used with a nebulizer.

4. For a fast acting treatment, we use Albuterol 90 mg, two puffs with a spacer. We also use Albuterol 0.083%/2.5 mg/3 ml vials in a nebulizer.

5. At the first signs of getting sick or even feeling stressed, which is also an asthma trigger, we visit our chiropractor in order to boost our immune system.

Ask your pediatrician or asthma specialist about developing an Asthma Action Plan and obtaining a flow meter for your child. And don't forget to find a good chiropractor in your area to help boost your child's immune system.

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.

Debra Denhart

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Principal Made Time

My 8 year old daughter, Carlese was so excited this week. She told me her principal sat at her special milk free and peanut free table. I could tell by her enthusiasm she felt thrilled about this event. Instead of feeling "different," she felt privileged.

I don't know if her principal knew what kind of an impact it would have on her, but his action in sitting at her table is something she will always remember.

If there is something you can do to put a smile on someone's face today or make someone feel special in some way, please take the time to do it. You don't know what kind of impact your act of kindness could have on another person today, or what it will mean to them in the future.

When they are having a tough day, they just might recall your kindness to mind to bring a smile to their face. And we all need a little more to smile about, don't you think?

And maybe, just maybe...that someone will walk a little taller and be a little stronger because of your taking the time to do something out of the ordinary. I know Carlese is.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to her principal, Mr. Hurlburt, for his act of goodwill.

Stay well, stay safe, and be brave.

Debra Denhart

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Private School Experience

When my daughter Carlese was in second grade at a public school here in Connecticut, she missed quite a few days due to her food allergies and asthma. By the end of the year she was so far behind the other 2nd graders, the principal at the time, really felt she was not academically ready for 3rd grade.

I really struggled with how Carlese might feel by being held back and I looked for other options. Fortunately, my job at the time gave me the financial stability to be able to place her into a private school
for 3rd grade. So into a private school she went.

Some immediate benefits I saw was the smaller class size which meant more individualized attention.  I was also very pleased with the curriculum. Yes, there were many things I was very excited about. However, there were some circumstances I did not anticipate on encounering.

I was under the impression that there was a full-time nurse at the school, but this was not the case. The nurse practitioner was only at the school a couple of days a week. This meant that the teachers and staff would need training in administering the Epi-pen and making medical decisions.

Four months went by during the school year and things seemed okay until an incident occurred which was very upsetting. There was a party scheduled for the class and the teacher brought in a candy for Carlese to have.

The teacher was very aware of Carlese's food allergies and asthma and I was shocked that she would give her a food she had not checked out with me. I proceeded to call the teacher to try to discuss this and I also talked with the principal.

The principal's comment to me about the teacher calling me on the food item was this, "The teacher doesn't have to call you to give you the ingredients over the phone. We have the list of items Carlese is allergic to and we check everything by that list. There are other children with allergies and this is what we have done for them in the past."

That principal obviously did not understand the severity of Carlese's allergies. And he did not have any education on the possibility of some companies having cross-contamination issues. Many companies don't list the cross-contamination of milk or tree nut products being made at their facilities. This means that as a parent, I need to call those companies to find out what type of products are made in their facility.

Just reading a label is not enough when it comes to children with food allergies. And to have a principal in a private school actually tell me the teacher does not need to call me with the ingredients was just shocking.

Needless to say, we began attending a public school about two weeks later. In comparison to  the private school, the principal and teachers at the public school were strong advocates of communicating about food ingredients. And no foods would even be brought into to the classroom for parties during the year without my approval.

Please learn from my experiences and make sure the principal and the teachers at your private school are willing to be in constant communication with you. And that your private school has a full-time nurse.

And by all means, run in the other direction if the head of the school tells you, they are not going to tell you what the ingredients are in the foods they are giving to your child. A statement like that is from someone you do not want leading your child's school or possibly risking your child's life.

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.

Debra Denhart

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Any child who has had to deal with the trauma of life-threatening food allergies could also develop a condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The causes of PTSD are defined as virtually any trauma which could be considered life-threatening or that severely compromises the emotional well-being of an individual or a situation which causes intense fear.

The symptoms of PTSD really caught my eye because, I could see some of these in my own child. Some of the characteristics of someone with PTSD could be chronic signs of hyper-arousal, sleep problems, irritability, anger, trouble concentrating, increased reaction to being startled and a hyper-vigilance to the threat.

The anger, irritability and hyper vigilance to the threat were behaviors I have seen more in my daughter recently. When you talking about the trauma a child with food allergies goes through, they are perfect candidates to develop PTSD.

In the past week Carlese has had four different allergic reactions to various foods. One out of the four reactions required a trip to the emergency room. It seems that more and more she is getting a "yukky" taste from so many various foods and varied circumstances.

I received a call from the school nurse just yesterday informing me that Carlese was in her office after complaining of "needing her inhaler and an itchy taste" in her mouth. After doing a peak flow and listening to her chest, the nurse didn't see any signs of needing an inhaler.

The nurse also called me to ask me to pick up Carlese from school because, there were no other signs of an allergic reaction requiring the administration of the Epi-pen. She was as puzzled about the whole situation as I was.

After asking some questions, I did find out that the symptoms occurred during art class which involved oil paints. There could have possibly been some oral allergy syndrome type of situation due to the smell of the paints or the dust in the air. It is really hard to say at this point.

A child with food allergies must always be in a hyperawareness mode and I think that the body could become even more sensitive to the foods and the environment.

I am on a search now for a counselor who has worked with children with food allergies and can shed some light on this for me.

Some things I did find helpful in the articles concerning Post-traumatic Stress Disorder were some coping mechanisms. For more information on some coping mechanisms for PSTD you can go to

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.

Debra Denhart

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Special Friends

Imaginary play is a normal part of every child's life. My daughters Carlese, 8 and Mia, 6, love to play house, doctor, school, and store. They love creating a world of make believe and it is so beautiful to watch.

My daughter Carlese recently received some stuffed animals as gifts from some friends. She has just fallen in love with these three stuffed animals. They consist of a rooster, a squirrel, a koala bear and a yellow wacky zingo. These new members of our family have their own beds, which she very carefully prepares for them at night.

She meticulously dresses each one of the animals in the perfect outfit everyday. And I have recently found out that they each have their own food allergy. Carlese told me her rooster had a milk allergy, her squirrel had an egg allergy, her koala bear had an allergy to coconuts, and her yellow wacky zingo was allergic to yellow gumdrops.

These special friends of hers have also been accompanying her to school. At recess she and other friends have made it their mission to find as many acorns as possible for "squirrley."

My daughter's imaginary play world is a place where she can care for others with food allergies. I think it is a very good thing for her to have this special time to play. These new family members have grown to mean so much to her.

I think somehow by giving these animals food allergies, she does not feel so alone. Food allergies can be very isolating at times for her. She is always singled out when it comes to not partaking in foods all of the other kids are eating. She also sits at a special table during lunch.

There were times in the past when she sat alone at lunch. As a parent, this is just heartbreaking to know your child is sitting alone at lunch. One of the most social times of the day became the most hurtful and lonely parts of the day. She would sit alone as she watched all of the other kids talking and laughing with their friends.

Now she has a group of committed friends who said they would sit at her table with her all year long. I cannot express the immense gratitude in my heart for these children for this commitment. Carlese is not alone anymore.

I am so thankful for my daughter's new friends, both in her stuffed animals and at school. She can find the courage to make it through another day. Not only to just "make it through" her day, but to smile and have fun. Seeing her smile and enjoy life is a huge gift for her... and for me.

Good friends are a gift to us all.

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.

Debra Denhart

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another Reaction...Please God No!

My daughter had another food allergy reaction this afternoon after eating lunch. She said her mouth felt "yukky" after eating the chicken I had prepared for her. I could hardly believe it. What could be the food allergy trigger in chicken?

She has never been allergic to chicken before. The only thing I can think of is some type of cross contamination in the packaging of the chicken. There must be other foods she is allergic to prepared in the same facility.

After she complained of some itching in her mouth after eating the chicken, I gave her some benadryl. There were no symptoms of her throat swelling after the "yukky" taste and itching in her mouth she originally complained of which is a good sign.

I am just monitoring her today to make sure the symptoms do not worsen. If they do, then it will mean a trip to the emergency room. She was just there a few nights ago after eating out at a restaurant and having some cross-contamination issues with a food she ate there.

She is really tired after the benadryl and is complaining that she has broken the record for allergic reations this month. This comment from her just breaks my heart. I hate to see her have to go through this so much. But I know that I need to be strong for her right now and hopeful.

I know it is not easy for her to have to deal with the food allergy issues everyday. But she is being very brave and we will just take one moment at a time to get through another allergic reaction.

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.

Debra Denhart

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Challenges of Eating Out

My daughter Carlese has food allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, sesame, mustard, tree nuts, and birch pollen which means no fresh apples. We do not eat out very often because there are so many issues involved in eating out.

First of all, as a parent of a child with food allergies there is the fear of someone not preparing the food correctly when it comes to dining out. Eating out has always been a very hard thing for me to do with my daughter. There are just so many things that have gone wrong in the past at restaurants.

I think more and more restaurants are trying to be careful in the preparation of foods. However, the restaurant industry is still making serious mistakes. I am not sure where the breakdown occurs. Could it be that the staff are not educated in the careful preparation of foods when it comes to food allergies?

Recently my daugther went out to dinner with her father and ordered corn on the cob, chicken and salad. Everything seemed fine. She loved the corn on the cob so much she ordered another one.

Unfortunately, the second order of corn on the cob was not so great. She ended up having an allergic reaction. There must have been some cross-contamination issues with the second order. My daughter stated she had a "yukky" taste in ther mouth after eating the second corn on the cob.

Her father gave her benadryl but it did not seem to help. She ended up in the emergency room because of the poor prepartion of the second corn on the cob. They monitored her in the emergency room until she felt better and the food allergy symptoms went away.

They also gave her some steroids to help prevent a rebound since she was not given the epi-pen shot after the reaction.

This trip to the restaurant was not a good experience for her. How far do you go in trying to do the "normal" things our society tells us?

It is hard to trust someone else to prepare your child's food, when you are talking about life-threatening food allergies. But, at the same time you do not want to keep your child in a bubble for the rest of their life. They need to live life and experience things too.

I also think that as a parent of a child with food allergies, you learn to create a "new" normal for your child in so many ways. Such as checking ingredients on labels constantly, frequent handwashing, and the questioning of food preparation.

We will not be eating out at a restaurant again any time soon. Our new normal is going to be no restaurants. I will try to find creative alternatives to eating out so my daughter does not feel like she is missing out.

It is not easy but, I have to do my best to make sure my daughter is safe. Nothing is more important than that.

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.
Debra Denhart