Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Feature: Raising Food Allergic Kids.org

This Friday Feature showcases Lissa, the founder of Raising Food Allergic Kids, a website packed with information to help raise your food allergic child. As you'll see in our interview below, Lissa's site is a must-read if you're planning a Disney World trip.

What is your food allergy background?

My daughter, Caroline, had her first reaction shortly after she turned one. It was her second exposure to egg. I had no idea that it’s very common for a sensitivity to manifest not in a first exposure, but in the second. I was taken completely by surprise. When I plopped a hard boiled egg on her high chair tray about a week after her first scrambled egg, I thought nothing of it. Within five minutes even the whites of her eyes were red and we were on our way to the doctor in a panic.

In the year since this first exposure she's have had multiple blood tests, skin tests and oral challenges. We've also learned that Caroline has severe asthma. I now know that asthma and allergies are often connected.

What are you passionate about in the food allergy field?

To be honest, I am passionate most about finding workable solutions for our everyday life. I really don’t care about the ongoing fight that seems to be happening in our world over what causes allergies and what has caused the rise in incidence. Finding that out won’t change the fact that we are living with it.

I want Caroline to have a normal, happy and safe childhood. So, I am passionate about finding ways to make that our reality. It often means that I do a lot of extra work behind the scenes, but it’s worth it to me so that she can experience life the way it’s meant to be experienced.

I'm also passionate about sharing with other parents. With diagnoses coming earlier in our children’s lives, it is overwhelming to think of raising your child in a world that seems suddenly scarier than it used to be. I’m all about trying to break our kids out of the protective bubbles that we instinctively want to put them in when we first hear that diagnosis.

What else are you working on in the food allergy area?

It’s a strange melding of my two major interests: food allergies and Disney World. Yes, I know that’s random, but I grew up in Florida and Disney is a huge part of my life. I am inspired by the way the Disney cast members accommodate guests with food allergies (and many other special needs, too).

It’s my hope to be able to bring their model to other vacation destinations and kid-centered activities like summer camps. We leave on our next trip in just a couple of weeks and I’ve reached out to Sea World Orlando and Universal Studios Orlando to see what kinds of accommodations they make and to start a dialogue about ways to open up their experiences to more kids with these potentially life threatening limitations.

Food Allergy Assistant: I love this idea. Whenever we travel to Disney World, I think, "Why can't everyone, everywhere, be this accommodating?"

What are your favorite food allergy friendly food staples?

Our egg-free banana pancakes are an absolute favorite in our house – recipe is on our site and Caroline can eat them three meals a day if we let her. We are very lucky to not have wheat allergies as I think that has to be one of the most limiting of the major 8, so Annie’s Bunnies crackers are also a great snack on the go for us. I like them better than the goldfish crackers since they don’t have any additives. Van’s Waffles saved our lives when she was first diagnosed, and remain a staple in our freezer.

What did you do before life with food allergies?

I worked for five years for the United States Chamber of Commerce, the number one lobbying organization in the country. That experience is proving to be very helpful now that I’m following the legislation pertaining to food labeling and protections for our kids.

What are some of your other interests/hobbies?

As mentioned, I love Disney and everything related to it. I help lots of people plan trips to Disney World- with or without food allergies. I love to cook, bargain hunt and can play a mean game of Ring Around the Rosie with Caroline.

Thank you, Lissa, for creating your website to help parents who feel overwhelmed with a food allergy diagnosis. I plan to try out your egg-free French toast recipe as my son has never had French toast!

Check out Lissa's site at www.rfak.org.
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