5th-grader is vigilant about threat from food
By BILL RADFORD THE GAZETTE
Morgan Smith is always on guard. At age 10, he’s a whiz at reading food labels, looking first for the bold words that signify a common allergen. He carries his EpiPen, an injection device containing a potentially life-saving dose of epinephrine, everywhere on a belt. He’s always conscious of what those around him are eating. But Morgan, one of an estimated 2 million children in the United States with food allergies, has found that even with all that vigilance, it’s possible to end up in a scary situation. In June, the Colorado Springs boy was camping in the mountains with his dad and his older sister, Michaela, when he suffered an anaphylactic reaction — a sudden, severe allergic reaction. Morgan knew he was allergic, in varying degrees, to many foods: peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, eggs, shellfish. But tests for allergies to whitefish had been negative. So he was looking forward to a dinner of freshly caught steamed trout, sauteed in butter and lemon juice. But after a bite, his gums became itchy —
the possible first sign of an allergic reaction. His dad gave him Benadryl and kept a close eye on him. “He just started to stare off into space, which really started to concern me,” Bob Smith said. “I wasn’t sure what it was. We had never been through an anaphylactic reaction before.” Morgan’s chest began to hurt. It became a struggle to breathe. At his urging, his dad jabbed the tip of the EpiPen into Morgan’s left thigh. Epinephrine, the drug of choice for treating anaphylaxis, can reverse the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. The next step was to get Morgan help. At an elevation of 10,000 feet and with no cell phone service, calling 911 was out of the question. So they raced down a rocky, four-wheeldrive trail in their Toyota Land Cruiser, lights flashing and horn honking. “My whole focus was to get him to the E.R.,” Bob Smith said. They came across a Forest Service firefighter, who radioed the Lake City Area Medical Center. Outside Lake City, they were met first by police, then an ambulance. After a few hours at the medical center, Morgan felt OK, though exhausted. He, his dad and Michaela drove back to their campsite in the dark. It was the most frightening chapter yet in Morgan’s struggles with food allergies. His parents learned he had peanut allergies when he got hives up his arms and across his face after touching peanut butter at age 9 months. He also suffered hives at 15 months after getting his MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) shot, which was egg-based then. He was 18 months old when he underwent skin-prick testing that confirmed he was allergic to peanuts and, to a lesser degree, eggs. Later testing also showed allergies to shellfish and tree nuts. His allergist, Dr. Bonnie Baswell, said Morgan’s number of food allergies is unusual. But it is not unusual, she said, for someone’s allergies to broaden. “I am seeing more and more both kids and adults that may have started with one type of nut sensitivity, but being able to tolerate others, who come back a couple of years later, and all of a sudden they’ve developed allergies to two or three more varieties of nuts.” For Morgan, being ever vigilant has become a way of life. “You get used to it,” he said recently as he ate a slice of banana bread for an after-school snack. “Is this safe? No. Is this safe? Yay!” He’s also allergic to dogs, cats and some other critters — basically anything feathery or furry, he says. “A dog licked me right there just a little,” he said, pointing to his elbow, “and I got hives here and here.” Allergy shots could make it possible for him to have a dog someday, but there are no cures for food allergies. So Morgan and his family have had to adjust. They don’t eat out much, and Morgan’s mom, Nicole, cooks a lot from scratch. Morgan always takes his lunch to school, eating with friends in a nut-free zone. His diet became more restrictive this year after a nutritionist, based on tests indicating Morgan has a gluten sensitivity that may exacerbate his allergies, suggested a glutenfree diet. Gluten is a protein found in common grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Morgan said the change to gluten-free was a big one, but there aren’t really any foods he misses other than Sara Lee bagels. “Those are the best,” he said wistfully. Outside the Breadbox, a local gluten-free bakery, has become an important resource for the family. “It’s hard to take that much out of your diet and still have variety and quality,” Nicole Smith said. The Smiths have become advocates for allergy awareness. Nicole Smith has written three kids’ books on food allergies, seeking to educate children, parents and schools. Morgan, a fifth-grader at Foothills Elementary School, has taught his class about allergies with a PowerPoint presentation he created. “My son knows more about food allergies than most doctors,” Bob Smith said. Morgan is responsible and vigilant about his allergies, he added, but doesn’t obsess. “He has concerns, but he doesn’t walk on eggshells. He doesn’t let it hold his life back at all.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0272 or email@example.com
ALLERGIC-CHILD RESOURCES Nicole Smith has written three children’s books on food allergies: “Allie the Allergic Elephant,” about peanut allergies; “Cody the Allergic Cow,” on milk allergies; and, most recently, “Chad the Allergic Chipmunk,” which discusses nut allergies. All three were illustrated by Maggie Nichols, a neighbor who was a student in middle school when she worked on the first book and now is a junior at the University of Northern Colorado. To order, go to www.amazon.com or www.allergicchild. com. MOSAIC — Mothers of Severely Allergic Children — is a new food-allergy support group. It’s not just for moms, but for dads, grandparents and others interested in learning about food allergies. The group, hosted by Dr. Daniel Soteres, meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at Asthma & Allergy Associates, P.C. and Research Center, 2709 N. Tejon St. More information on food allergies is available at www.foodallergy.org, the Web site of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.
Morgan Smith, 10, showed the EpiPen he keeps with him at all times. In case of an allergic reaction, the EpiPen is used to inject epinephrine, a drug that treats anaphylaxis.
PHOTOS BY MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE - Morgan Smith, 10, far right, clowned around at lunchtime recently with fellow fifth-graders at Foothills Elementary School, Jeremy Hochmuth, left to right, Ben League, Tyler Anderson and Cameron Peak. Morgan is allergic to several foods including nuts, so he eats lunch — brought from home — with friends at a table designated a “nut and peanut-free zone.”
MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE - Morgan Smith, 10, right, ate lunch with his friend Cameron Peak recently at Foothills Elementary School. Morgan is allergic to several foods as well as dogs, cats and some other animals.