Kathie Van Giezen and her family
As the parent of a child with severe food allergies, I am always thinking about my son Jack’s safety – even as I encourage him to enjoy all that life has to offer.
I strongly believe that my role as his parent is not only to educate and empower him about his food allergies, but to develop an ongoing communication stream and friendly relationship with his teachers, the school nurse, other parents and children. I also take every opportunity to advocate for him in a positive and constructive manner. If I am nervous or uncertain about a situation, I speak up. I have found that in most cases, others are more than willing to make small changes to accommodate my son.
I also feel that one of the most important things that I can do for Jack is to teach him to “own” his allergy. Jack was diagnosed with a severe allergy to peanuts and pistachios when he was two. In the past five years, he has learned to read food labels, to discuss his allergies with friends and adults, and to speak up in restaurants and other situations. Anytime there is food involved, Jack will confidently announce his allergies and ask if the food that is being served is safe for him to eat – regardless of what is being served.
A friend tells a story about my son (who was four at the time) asking if an apple was safe for him to eat. We laughed about it, but the reality is that he is still young and I do not want him to ever assume that because something is safe to eat at our house, that it is safe to eat other places (unless he has confirmed that it is peanut/pistachio free by either reading labels or checking with an adult).
While Jack’s allergies certainly play a large role in the choices that we make as a family, they do not define him. He attends a school where peanuts are served, goes on playdates at friends’ homes, and this last year he attended a summer sports camp (I admit that I did drive by the soccer field a few times). As a family, we take the following steps to ensure his safety:
- I speak to the adult in charge about his food allergies and assess their level of comfort with using an epinephrine auto-injector. If they are not comfortable, I stay;
- I leave them with his epinephrine auto-injector and medical information, such as his age, weight, and doctor’s contact information;
- I pack safe snacks for Jack to eat;
- He wears a bright orange wristband that identifies his allergy, and he has been taught to speak up if he is uncomfortable with a situation.
Jack’s friends are all aware of his allergies and they really look out for him. I once saw his best friend jump between him and a bag of candy as she loudly announced that he had a peanut allergy and could not have the candy!
With a lot of preparation, open communication, and the support of his teachers, other parents, and friends, my son is successfully dealing with his food allergies and enjoys a wonderfully fun and fulfilling life – despite his allergies.
Kathie Van Giezen lives with her family in Alexandria, Virginia, where she enjoys being a stay at home mom. Kathie recently participated in a three-part video series, supported with funds provided by Pfizer, educating parents, teachers, school administrators and students on the dangers of anaphylaxis and how to prevent an allergic reaction and prepare for an emergency response. Hear more about Kathie’s story below: