The Allergy Mom® Melissa Scheichl Provides Education and Support

Melissa Scheichl

Growing up Melissa Scheichl (aka The Allergy Mom®) of the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada, had both seasonal and food allergies and her mother suffered a dangerous anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting. As challenging and scary as these experiences were, however, allergies did not become a major focus of her life until her children were born almost 16 and 14 years ago.  
Read the article here.

Allergic Reactions Need Fast Action

Sadly, this month we must once again report the death of a teenager due to anaphylaxis. In memory of his son Simon, David Katz wants to remind everyone that immediate action can mean the difference between life and death. If you think someone may be having a serious allergic reaction and an epi-pen is available, don’t rely on just Benadryl, don’t drive to Urgent Care or the emergency room, and don’t wait for an ambulance before you administer epinephrine. When in doubt, get it out!

Simon Katz
Simon Katz

David Katz Shares His Son’s Story

By Kristen Stewart
February 11th, 2016

Most everyone wishes at one time or another they could turn the clock back and change the past—but few feel it as keenly as David Katz, whose 16-year-old son Simon passed away last September from a severe allergic reaction.

The family had known about Simon’s allergies since he was an infant. They had weathered a few scares through the years when he had inadvertently eaten foods that contained peanuts. His reactions were successfully managed by prompt medical care and the administration of epinephrine and steroids. Simon hadn’t had any substantial allergic episodes since before he was ten years old.

Simon always carried his Epi-Pen first in his backpack and then later in the glove compartment of his car once he started driving. He knew his health situation was serious and what he needed to do. What he didn’t realize was how important every single second is when having an anaphylactic reaction.

“When he was younger he sought help as soon as he was aware he had eaten something with peanuts,” says David. “On the night he died he was aware—but somehow underestimated how much and how fast he needed help. Had he been better educated about other fatal cases, and not just thinking about his own experiences, I believe he might have made better choices during the most critical moments.”

The day had started routinely enough. Simon had gone to school and to an extracurricular activity before coming home and telling his father he wanted to go to the homecoming bonfire. It was there that a friend offered him part of a s’more from a bake sale table. Expecting the traditional chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker combination, he ate some before realizing it was actually made with a peanut butter cup.

David says that Simon knew there was a problem but likely didn’t realize how serious it was. He had gone to the bonfire in his friend’s car so he didn’t have his Epi-Pen handy. According to his friends, he insisted he would be alright, went into the school to throw up, but when he returned he still wasn’t looking well. After some pressure from his friends he asked that they drive him home so he could get medicine.

David was there when they arrived and realized immediately what was wrong, but didn’t know much at all about when Simon had eaten peanuts. He quickly grabbed a handful of Epi-Pens and got Simon in the car for a fast trip to the urgent care center that was only a mile or two away.

During the drive, however, things quickly went from bad to worse. Simon began to have trouble breathing and David tried to inject him with the Epi-Pens and also called 911 while driving to the urgent care center. By the time they arrived Simon was struggling even more. David yelled for help while doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The staff wheeled him inside and went to work until eventually he was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. Simon passed away that night.

Now his family grieves…and wonders what if.

What if Simon’s Mother’s years-long attempts to get his schools to go peanut-free had been successful? Would that have meant no peanut butter s’more at the bonfire?

What if Simon had gotten faster access to epinephrine either with his own Epi-Pen or by asking for medical attention at the bonfire (there were EMTs present)?

What if 911 had been called sooner? Or what if he’d gotten to the hospital which was better equipped to deal with an emergency like this faster?

“It was just the perfect storm - a terrible sequence of events,” David says. “It’s been four-and-a-half months and I still can’t believe it.”

In between these times of disbelief, however, David tries to focus on what he does know. He remembers his son as a happy and fun-loving boy and young man. He loved Music – writing and playing with many fellow artists. He primarily wrote, recorded and performed with “Boats Without Oars,” his band of more than two years. He more recently had a passion for Theatre, and cherished his role in the High School Program. He was planning to pursue Performing Arts in college.

David also looks to the future, searching for ways to bring some sort of meaning to his loss. He believes so much of teens’ decisions are based on what their friends are thinking rather than what their parents would say—and that this phenomenon played a part in Simon’s actions the night of his death. David hopes that by sharing Simon’s story with others, particularly teens, he can help them realize allergic reactions can be life-threatening and treatment should always be sought immediately.

Here is what we and FARE have to say about anaphylaxis.

Battle of the Epi-Pen

With more and more employers and insurance companies offering only high deductible health insurance plans, many families are faced with paying the full cost of epi-pens for the first time. And, they have to be replaced each year. The school nurse at Carolyn Ossorio’s son’s school had a good piece of advice to not accept an epi-pen that expires in six months or you will end up paying again.

Patrick Ossorio
Patrick Ossorio

Battle of the Epi-Pen

By Carolyn Ossorio
February 2nd, 2016

Can we talk about the exorbitant cost of EpiPens?

I've probably bored you already.

Let's face it: Another person whining about the high cost of health care in America.

Hell yes I'm complaining! I just had to pay $440 for two EpiPens so my son, um, won't die if he inadvertently eats a tree nut.

According to the FARE (Food, Allergy, Research and Education) website, researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and that this potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That's roughly two in every classroom.

But did you know that State law requires all students with life-threatening health conditions, such as nut allergies, to have medication for each child prior to attending school? (Editor’s note: The author is a resident of the state of Washington)

What if you can't afford one?

When I was a kid, I didn't know of one kid that had a nut allergy.

And I'll admit I blamed all of the other preschool "helicopter parents" who were stopping my kid from the freedom of eating his beloved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for snack.

I became a believer when I handed our three-year-old son, Patrick, a granola bar he'd never tried before (it had tree nuts, not peanuts) which he summarily projectile vomited all over and was immediately covered in hives.

Afterward, my son was diagnosed with a tree nut allergy that required a yearly prescription of EpiPens.

He's now eight.

And, thankfully for the last five years, although it's a condition that could potentially be fatal, we have been fortunate to have an ample supply of EpiPens.

Like clockwork, once a year we got a 'script from his allergist that we brought via the drive thru pharmacist, and in roughly the same amount of time it would take to order a Chai latte, we had a to-go sized bag filled with boxes of EpiPens for a $50 co-pay.

We were swimming in EpiPens!

Enough to store one in each of our family’s two vehicles, at our house, at grandma's, and at the neighbors.

We were pretty clueless about how lucky we were.

Although one year I do remember driving away with another year's supply of EpiPens and my eight-year-old daughter held up the bag saying, "Wow, Mom, in the corner of the receipt it says, 'your insurance saved you 1200 dollars.'"

My husband had a great job as a computer programmer, and I was thankful that our family, (we have five kids) had access to life saving medicine.

The cost of EpiPens only became relevant when I received a warning from the school nurse that Patrick's EpiPen was due to expire January 31st and we needed to replace it or he wouldn't be allowed to attend school.

My husband hadn't changed companies but his health insurance options had drastically changed and we had two choices: a high deductible plan and another high deductible plan.

With our "new" high deductible insurance it would cost us $440 out of pocket, (which includes the use of a coupon that the Mylan Company, the makers of the EpiPen, passes off to patients as a zero dollar co-pay when really it only takes off 100 dollars).

Our stockpile of cheap EpiPens had lulled us into middle class complacency. And, like a rooster comin' to call, our cache of EpiPens was useless.

Lying awake the other night, I wondered how we would pay for the EpiPens.

My husband had researched options online. Surely this was a mistake, how could a once cheap medication now be so expensive?

According to an article on NerdWallet, there is no generic EpiPen available due to the manufacturer's patent. Because of this, Mylan, the maker of the device, is allowed to charge what it wants without direct competition. And what it charges is alarmingly high.

Apparently we could buy one from England for 120 dollars, with a minimum purchase of two. Or we could drive to Canada and buy one for 100 dollars.

Both brainstorming ideas seemed sketchy.

On the one hand, I was being stubborn. It would be difficult, but we could afford it.

I thought of a friend whose son has a nut allergy. I could offer her a couple hundred dollars for a couple doses if she had extra? I would certainly rather give her the money than the Mylan Corporation who manufactures the drug.

I wondered it that was even legal?

The FARE website advised that the economic cost of children's food allergies is nearly $25 billion per year.

The school nurse seemed so relieved when I delivered the EpiPen on February 1st and I told her I was writing a piece about the situation.

"I know I shouldn't be saying this, but try to get the story national," she whispered. "This is so hard on families, especially the working class, and the medicine is for children! Make sure that you explain to parents to insist on an EpiPen from the pharmacist that expires in a year. So many parents have bought EpiPens from pharmacies that push their old stock and give them prescriptions that expire in six months!"

I can't tell you how many times people say that healthcare for the middle class is in the toilet because of Obamacare.

I grew up poor with a single parent and not having health care or food is something you don't and shouldn't forget.

I wholeheartedly believe in Universal Healthcare for all, even if it messes with our families once "cushy" situation.

Like most parents, of course we would and did pay and in the larger scheme of things our son's health trumps all.

But this whole thing feels rotten.

Here's an excerpt from a recent NPR interview: "A slick marketing campaign is part of the reason why. That campaign included lobbying Congress to get EpiPens in schools. Forty-seven states now suggest or mandate that schools have such devices on hand... As the popularity of EpiPens has grown, so has the cost. The wholesale price of the drug has increased by about 400 percent as it has been heavily marketed."

I have a serious problem with drug companies grossly taking advantage of people, especially children, because they can.

Follow Carolyn Ossorio on Twitter: Carolyn Ossorio @Pippi_mamma

Las Vegas Attorney Tackles Issues for Allergy Sufferers

Homa Woodrum, an attorney in Las Vegas, has a daughter with food allergies and decided to use her legal skills to help protect others as well. Check out her blog where she addresses a variety of legal topics such as labeling sesame in foods, Amtrak not allowing unaccompanied children with life-threatening food allergies, and advocating for a law to require all Nevada schools to stock auto-injectable epinephrine.

Homa, Robert and Eleanor Woodrum
Homa, Robert and Eleanor Woodrum
Photo by Bill Hughes
Las Vegas Review/Journal

Las Vegas Attorney Tackles Issues for Allergy Sufferers

By Carri Geer Thevenot,
Las Vegas Review-Journal
January 31st, 2016

Homa Woodrum makes a living as a guardianship attorney, but it is her work as an allergy advocate that she calls her "passion project."

In 2014, the Las Vegas attorney was one of three women who founded the Allergy Law Project, a website designed to provide accurate information about the intersection of law and food allergies. All three women have children with food allergies, and all three are lawyers.

"We all have day jobs," Woodrum said.

Woodrum, 32, was introduced to the world of allergies after giving birth to her first child, daughter Eleanor, in 2008.

As an infant, Eleanor had constant skin problems. Then at 15 months, she got her hands on her mother's toast, which was covered with Nutella hazelnut spread. After tasting some, the child quickly became upset and "was clawing at her throat," her mother said.

Woodrum gave her daughter some Benadryl and let her drift off to sleep.

"Looking back, I should have taken her to the hospital," Woodrum said during a recent interview at her law offices.

Eleanor's pediatrician later ordered a blood test and personally called Woodrum with the results: The child was allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, oats, sesame, milk, eggs, wheat, corn and soy.

The pediatrician instructed Woodrum to come to the doctor's office right away for an EpiPen, which can be used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylactic episode, and referred Eleanor to an allergist.

Woodrum, who was still breastfeeding, stopped eating everything on her daughter's allergy list. Within two days, the child was showing a new interest in eating solid foods.

"It was shocking to see how obvious it was once we knew," Eleanor's father, Adam, said.

Homa and Adam Woodrum, who met while attending UNLV's Boyd Law School, were married in 2007 and are law partners. They still kick themselves for not figuring out their daughter's problem sooner. They lived in Winnemucca for a few months after Eleanor's birth, and their doctor at the time had referred them to an allergist in Reno, but they never followed through.

"We were first-time parents, so we talked ourselves out of a lot of stuff," Homa Woodrum said.

Discovering their daughter's allergies meant major lifestyle changes for the Woodrums. Already vegetarians, they temporarily became vegans.

"We ate rice and potato chips for two years," Adam Woodrum said, only half joking.

Regular testing eventually revealed that Eleanor had outgrown some of her allergies. The 7-year-old eats soy, wheat, corn, eggs and milk.

The Woodrums' second child, 5-year-old Robert, has shown no signs of allergies.

When Eleanor was young, she had a hard time understanding why she couldn't have the same food other children were eating, such as cake at a birthday party.

The parents didn't want to tell their daughter that she could die if she ate forbidden foods, but when they explained that she could stop breathing, the child put two and two together.

Eleanor has learned to be careful about what she consumes, and she heads off to second grade every day with a pair of EpiPens zipped in pouches around her waist. She has never had to use one, although her mother probably should have once.

When Eleanor was 3 or 4, her mother left her in someone else's care for the first time. Homa Woodrum returned to find her daughter "sneezing uncontrollably" and breaking out in hives.

"She was scared; she didn't want me to use the EpiPen," Woodrum said.

Instead, the mother gave her daughter Benadryl and put her in the shower. Woodrum acknowledges she should have used the EpiPen.

"I will always be honest about what I do or don't do under stress," she said, putting on her allergy-advocate hat.

Woodrum still doesn't know what caused her daughter's reaction that day, although she suspects it was a cat.

While spending time at home when her children were younger, she often read blogs. At her husband's urging, she decided to start a recipe blog for families dealing with allergies.

"I had done Web design before law school, so the tech stuff came easily," she said.

The blog's name, "Oh Mah Deehness!", was inspired by the way her daughter used to say, "Oh my goodness!"

With the blog, Woodrum set out to answer questions such as "How do you make a loaf of bread when you can't have eggs or milk or wheat?" She later branched out into legal topics.

In August 2014, she wrote on her blog about an Amtrak policy that said unaccompanied children "may not have any life-threatening food allergies." That piece caught the attention of Maryland attorney Mary Vargas, who then sued the railroad passenger company.

The case is still pending, but Amtrak since has changed the policy.

In August 2012, Woodrum appeared before a legislative committee to speak in favor of a requirement that all Nevada schools stock auto-injectable epinephrine. The bill became law in 2013.

Last year, she traveled to Washington to lobby for mandatory disclosure of sesame in foods.

She also co-founded the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference but stepped down after the 2014 event. That year, Massachusetts attorney Laurel Francoeur came up with the idea for the Allergy Law Project and invited Woodrum and Vargas to join her in providing free information online about allergy law in the United States.

Woodrum, who also works as an adjunct professor at Boyd Law School, said allergy issues generally fall under three federal laws: the Americans With Disabilities Act, which ensures equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires that children with disabilities receive equal access to an education; and the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.

In her role as an allergy mom, Woodrum attends what are known as "504" meetings each year at her daughter's school. The meetings typically involve an administrator, the school nurse and Eleanor's teacher. Together, they come up with a plan that allows Eleanor to have a free and fair education, which — the mother notes — includes social benefits.

Even for someone who understands the process, the meetings can be stressful.

"I shake through all of mine," Woodrum said.

Eleanor attended the most recent 504 meeting and later told her mom, "I like how everyone wants to keep me safe."

Rather than come to the meetings with a list of demands, Woodrum prefers to help her daughter's teachers come up with their own ideas.

This year, Eleanor eats her homemade meals at a separate table in the school lunchroom. She is allowed to have a friend join her, if the friend is eating a school lunch. Woodrum said she has been told that public school lunches don't contain nuts, so she believes Eleanor faces little risk from mere exposure to them.

When asked what she considered to be the worst aspect of having allergies, Eleanor answered without hesitation: "Not being able to eat what my friends eat."

She specifically mentioned Reese's peanut butter cups, although her mom said she eats Sun Cups, made from sunflower butter.

"She just wants to be like other kids," her mother said.

On a recent afternoon, Adam Woodrum brought the couple's two children to the Woodrum Law offices after school. There, the youngsters changed clothes before heading off to a tae kwon do class.

That concept of equal treatment lies at the heart of the Allergy Law Project's mission statement: "Supporting equal access and safe inclusion of individuals with food allergies under law."

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.

Love is in the Air, Literally

Lianne Mandelbaum was so impressed with the special services provided by Jet Blue airlines for her son Joshua that she wanted to share the letter that she sent to them. Let this be an example for all airlines to follow for those with life-threatening food allergies!

Joshua Mandelbaum
My Son, Joshua, Happy on JetBlue Airways Taken by Lianne Mandelbaum

Love is in the Air, Literally

By Lianne Mandelbaum
February 9th, 2016

Dear JetBlue Airways,

I realize this is a bit unorthodox, but I wanted to officially declare my love for your airline on this Valentine's Day. You have given back to our family the gift of travel. Let me explain.

My son, Joshua, has a life threatening peanut allergy. After a bad experience with another airline where we were told in response to declaring his peanut allergy "if you think he's going to die, just don't get on the plane," we were admittedly very wary about flying with him again. And then we found you....

When booking our first JetBlue flight after our traumatic airline experience, I was immediately impressed that there was a box that I could check off identifying us as having a nut allergy. The reservation agent spoke kindly to me and informed us that we could request pre-boarding in order to wipe down our seat for past nut residue. This was a tremendous relief to me as an allergy mom. Many times, I had to fight the large crowd during general boarding to rush and clean the seat area where my son would sit and would only hope that I had enough time to do a thorough job cleaning my area for past nut residue. She went on to inform me that JetBlue carries EpiPens (easy to use auto-injectors) on all its flights. I always carry my own set of auto-injectors but it was heartening to know there was back up if necessary.

When we arrived at the airport, I reminded the gate agent of my son's nut allergy and she personally came to pre-board us. The flight crew was so kind and was already informed about his nut allergy. When we were seated, as per your policy, the flight attendant made an announcement to our immediate area to please not consume nuts and that no products with nuts would be sold in our area. My son was 9 years old at the time, and the tone of your staff as they spoke made us feel that you had our back. I realize you can't guarantee a nut free environment, but you took multiple steps that help us reduce the risk of his exposure to nuts while in the air.

When it came time for snack service, I had packed my own. I never rely or expect an airline to provide safe food for my son. I also carry a variety of gluten free, dairy free and other snack options because I try to be mindful that there may be someone in our immediate area who only has nuts for a snack and may need another choice. The flight attendant told me that this was unnecessary on JetBlue as they too had a variety of choices to offer passengers. Then, to my son's delight, she offered him a bag of certified nut free cookies (Skeeter Snacks). His joy was contagious (see picture above).

Food allergies affect at least 15 million Americans, many of whom are small children. These children will grow up to be the future business travelers of the world, and will choose to fly airlines that treat their food allergy (a legitimate medical condition) with dignity and respect. They will discover, just like I did, that JetBlue is worthy of their business, love, and support.

Happy Valentine's Day!

A Grateful Food Allergy Mom.

Lianne Mandelbaum

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