One minute, our 2-year-old son was eating melon for the first time, and the next minute he had hives and facial swelling. We were at my parents' lake house, which is about 45 minutes away from a hospital, when it happened, very recently. We rushed him to the nearest doctor we could find (about halfway between the lake house and the hospital), who gave him an EpiPen injection and called 911. Shortly after the first EpiPen injection and the second, our little guy stopped breathing just as EMS walked through the door. They were able to stabilize him as we rushed in an ambulance to the hospital.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion for me, mainly because I just felt so helpless. His beautiful brown eyes were focused on me the entire time, and just before his throat closed up he was saying "Mommy! Help! Help!" In that moment, I couldn't help. All I could do was put my trust in the medical professionals and hope that the outcome would be positive.
We spent the night in the pediatric intensive care unit. He was given steroids and a nebulizer to help with his breathing. The allergic reaction subsided overnight.
As the dust settled on what had been a truly horrific day, I was left wondering how we could prevent this from ever happening again. Right now, he's only 2 and spends his days at home with me. But how can we prevent this from happening during his school years? I pictured a well-meaning friend convincing him to eat his allergen someday because it's healthy for him, not knowing that a simple bite could kill him. A dear friend once told me about how a child in her son's class was bullying a young boy about his severe peanut allergy. They found out that the boy was actually being bullied by a large group of children who were literally trying to force feed the child a peanut butter sandwich in the cafeteria. One bite could have killed the child but nothing was done to prevent further bullying.
The answer seems to be advocacy. Knowledge is power. People are often afraid of what they don't understand, and bullying in schools stems out of this. When we provide information that aids understanding — and help our children to become informed advocates for themselves — we are able to provide them with hope and some sense of security.
We woke up the following morning in the hospital room to discover that our new life as "EpiPen Parents" had now begun. We were trained on how to use them and will now keep some with us at all times. Our little guy will undergo allergy testing next week (once the steroids are out of his system) to determine the exact cause of his severe reaction. He was eating cantaloupe when the reaction occurred so he will be tested specifically for that and all melons, but we still need to know everything that he's allergic to. With such a severe reaction, there really is no time to waste.
After having the initial consult with his allergist, we were informed that many melons (cantaloupe included) have a cross-reactivity to ragweed and some grasses. This makes sense for our son because we had noticed watery eyes and a runny nose since spring arrived, however nothing as drastic as the severe anaphylactic shock episode we experienced last week. We're hopeful this information, coupled with further testing, can help lead us to some definitive answers for him.
It's unfortunate that he will have to worry about having such a severe allergy but we are grateful to have a plan in place as we move forward together. This is not the worst diagnosis, and it is manageable. My husband and I will teach him to advocate for himself as he grows. That's certainly a great start.
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