- Patrick Bennett
Allergic Living’s Patrick Bennett caught up with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s 2012 MVP, to talk about his adult-onset shellfish allergy. Peterson has partnered with Mylan Specialty, the marketer of the EpiPen, to heighten awareness of anaphylaxis.
Job: NFL running back for the Minnesota Vikings
Lives with: life-threatening shellfish allergy
Allergic Living’s Patrick Bennett caught up with Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s 2012 MVP, to talk about his adult-onset shellfish allergy and how he has partnered with Mylan Specialty, the marketer of the EpiPen, to heighten awareness of anaphylaxis.
Allergic Living: Many of us heard that you had a big allergic reaction. Could you take us back to those moments: where were you, what were you eating, what happened?
Adrian Peterson: It was 2011 at training camp and we were at lunch. I had a bowl of gumbo – it had the normal stuff, shrimp, scallops, seafood. Maybe 30 minutes after I ate lunch and got back to my room, I was relaxing, resting up before afternoon practice – that’s when I started experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, though I didn’t know at the time. My throat started to itch, my eyes were extremely itchy. I remember laying down rubbing my eyes; it kind of raised a red flag.
When I stood up and looked in the mirror, I saw my eyes were swollen, and my throat was starting to swell up on me, so I called my athletic trainer and told him the symptoms. Immediately he was like, ‘Hold on, I’m coming up, just wait for me!’
When he got there, he had the EpiPen auto-injector, I administered it into my thigh, and immediately I felt my throat start to open up. I was able to breathe better, and it gave me the time I needed to get to the hospital to seek further assistance.
It kind of threw me off guard, because I eat seafood all the time, and I’ve always eaten seafood my entire life and then – just out of the blue – I have this life-threatening allergic reaction.
After training camp I went to see an allergist and found out that I’m allergic to shrimp, lobster and scallops. From that point on, I’ve had my action plan, which is knowing my allergic triggers, and always having access to my EpiPen, just in case I have an allergic reaction. I have my EpiPen on me at all times.
AL: As a professional athlete, do you now take extra care during special events you are invited to?
AP: If it’s an event where I’m going to be eating anything, I’ll know the menu; I’ll have my EpiPen in my coat pocket. I always carry it with me, after that first incident. You never know what you could be allergic to and when it can trigger, and my case is a perfect example of that – when I tell you my favorite food was seafood, I ate it all the time!
AL: It must be hard as an adult, changing your diet like that.
AP: Yeah, it’s extremely hard, but it’s a life-threatening allergic reaction. It takes lives, it’s nothing to play with, and you really have to be serious and have your game plan.
AL: Now that you can look back on this, do you think you ever had any food allergy symptoms before?
AP: It was definitely the first time ever, and that’s one of the misperceptions. People think that kids are the only ones at risk for allergic reactions, and that’s not the case. Here I was, 27, this was my first time experiencing this.
That’s why I’m partnering with Mylan Specialty for the 25th anniversary of the FDA approval of the EpiPen, and I’m working with [TV’s nanny] Jo Frost and we’re sharing our stories to raise awareness.
We’re urging people to go to 25yearsofepipen.com and there they can learn some of the misperceptions about food allergy, like the one I said – that kids are the only ones at risk – or that it limits your potential, or it makes you weak. Here I am, a professional athlete, and it doesn’t make me weak at all.
Also we want people to show us their EpiPens, no matter where they go. Like for me, when I’m in the locker room, or I’m traveling to Green Bay this weekend, I’m carrying my EpiPen with me, because you always want to be prepared and have your [emergency] action plan. You always want to have a game plan.
So we want people to show us their EpiPens, we want people to take a picture of themselves with their EpiPen no matter where they are, and upload it [at 25yearsofepipen.com].
AL: Have you had any close calls or reactions since then?
AP: No I haven’t, thank God, I haven’t.
AL: How much time do you usually spend traveling in a normal year?
AP: Probably about nine weeks we’re traveling, so I’m traveling a lot actually.
AL: When on the road, how do you ensure your food is shellfish-free? Do you talk to chefs personally?
AP: We get a per diem, believe it or not [laughs], they give us money so we provide our own food, which is great. When I’m at restaurants I make sure that I’m staying away from my allergic triggers, I’m always keeping my eyes open, making sure I’m avoiding those triggers.
AL: Do you feel uneasy now if you’re near shellfish?
AP: You know, it brings back memories, but I know my allergic triggers, so I’m able to avoid them. And I have my EpiPen with me. That’s why it’s so important for us to bring awareness so people can know, so people can be better prepared.
AL: A lot of kids look up to you as a role model. What advice would you give to kids growing up with severe food allergies?
AP: One of the other misperceptions is that you don’t have to carry your EpiPen with you. I would advise young kids to have an action plan and take it seriously. Always carry the auto-injector with you, wherever you go, make sure you are avoiding your allergic triggers, and know your action plan in case an allergic reaction happens.
AL: What made you decide to get involved with the ‘Show Us Your EpiPens’ campaign?
AP: Just my experience – it hit home with me. It was one of those situations where your life kind of flashes in front of you. God forbid that they didn’t have the EpiPen, it was very scary.
That was the main factor, to use my platform to bring awareness to anaphylaxis because it’s life-threatening, and if it takes me to open the ears of an elder or a young kid who’s a fan, so they can be best prepared and have an action plan in case anaphylaxis occurs in their life, then I’m here to voice it.
AL: What felt better: being chosen as the 2012 MVP, or having your allergic reaction stopped by the auto-injector?
AP: [laughs] Having my allergic reaction stopped! You know what the crazy thing is, after I got off the phone with my athletic trainer, it seemed like everything kept getting even worse. When I hung up the phone I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, period. Then my throat started to really close up on me, so I’m sitting there, I’m searching, scratching for air, just barely getting air.
I got to the point where I was actually leaving, to try and meet him wherever he was coming from – I just wanted to get help – and as soon as I opened the door he ran out the elevator, he had the EpiPen, and I administered it.
Do they always keep auto-injectors at the training camp?
AP: Yeah. When you’ve got 70-something guys in a training camp, you never know what can happen. That’s one thing that I feel blessed about too, that my trainer was able to recognize my symptoms by me telling him, and he was prepared. He came up, he had the EpiPen and he knew exactly what was needed.
AL: Where are your auto-injectors kept during games?
AP: Right on the sidelines.
AL: What have your teammates said to you about the allergy?
AP: Initially when it first happened, of course they were concerned. They wanted to know exactly what took place, and I was able to fill them in that I had an allergic reaction to the shrimp and the scallops that was in the seafood gumbo, and I had just found out I’m allergic to those.
I told them my action plan, this is what I have to do, knowing my triggers and avoiding them, keeping my EpiPen with me. So it’s a slight change, but it’s for the better.
AL: Good luck on Sunday versus the Packers and thank you.
AP: Thank you so much, I appreciate you taking the time as well.