Thursday, September 30, 2010

First elementary school fundraiser: selling cookie dough that contains nearly all of Ainsley's allergens

Our school didn't waste much time in rolling out the first fundraiser of the year: selling preportioned trays of cookie dough. Surprisingly, Ainsley was ecstatic about the idea of selling something to benefit her school and couldn't stop talking about it or asking me when we could go out and sell some to our neighbors. She even told me, "Mommy, it's okay if you buy some even though I can't eat it - I won't be upset."

So far she's sweet-talked my mother into buying some even though my mother never eats cookies except when she makes them for her granddaughters (my two girls), and thus has no use for cookie dough that Ainsley can't have. She also got our babysitter to buy a few packs. Despite her pleading, I am not going to buy any - I just can't imagine having cookie dough around that she can't have.

I am very happy she's taking this so well and is excited about it rather than sad she can't have the dough. This will make it easier when we have to sell girl scout cookies in a few years, I guess.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We have had the first allergic reaction of the school year ... and it didn't happen at school

I can't believe we had a serious allergic reaction within the first two weeks of school, after having avoided one for the past year. What is even more unbelievable is that it did not happen at school - it happened when I was with Ainsley ... at a birthday party.

As I've explained before, I hate taking Ainsley to birthday parties. It is a hassle for me, as (on top of getting the birthday kid a present) I have to pack a cupcake and something else for Ainsley to eat, depending on what food will be at the party. But when Ainsley started kindergarten I decided to take her to more parties so she could socialize with her classmates, with whom she'll be going to school for the next several years. The first birthday party of the school year happened two weeks after the start of school. It was for a sweet little girl whom Ainsley hardly knew, at a barnyard close to our house. The barnyard was really a petting zoo. Attached to the petting zoo was a party room where the cake and other food was to be served.

As soon as we arrived, Ainsley started jumping in a bounce house that was by the petting zoo. After she tired of that, she wandered over to the petting zoo and began petting the bunnies, goats, and miniature horses. She did that for about 10 minutes and then went back to the jump house (after I put sanitizer on her hands).

A few minutes later, Ainsley started crying in the bounce house because she'd landed wrong on her ankle. When she climbed out so I could look at the ankle, I immediately noticed lots of raised hives on her forehead. They were all near the same location so the result was that most of the center of her face looked horribly red and swelled. I instantly forgot about the ankle and got into allergy-parent mode. I knew right away what had happened - the animal food must have had nuts in it, and she must have gotten residue on her hands from petting the animals and then spread it to her face.

I took her as fast as I could to the bathroom, where I gave her two teaspoons of Benadryl and began washing off every part of her exposed skin. I then washed off my arms, legs, and face and did the same for my 2-yr-old, who was with us. I was so relieved that Ainsley was exhibiting no internal symptoms. The hives on her face looked nasty, but at least she didn't need the Epi-Pen.

As soon as I washed all of us off, I explained to Ainsley that we had to leave the party because she couldn't be around the residue anymore. She was so upset - she started crying hysterically, because she wanted to stay. This is one of those times when I kept saying over and over to myself, "Food allergies really suck." What a cruel condition to have, that keeps your kid from enjoying or even staying at a birthday party.

I walked back to the party quickly to thank the host for inviting us and to explain why we had to leave. Then we hurried out of there and went home, where I had all of us immediately strip down and shower. I then threw all of our clothes into the wash and hosed off our shoes. It's funny how contaminated I felt at that moment - like I had rolled around in toxic waste. What a strange life we lead.

Clearly, I re-learned my lesson about birthday parties. We'll certainly never go to another one at that barnyard, and I will be even more careful around petting zoos (we'd never had a problem at one before, but I knew it was possible). And next time we get invited to a birthday party, we'll go if it's for a good friend of Ainsley's; otherwise, we'll just stay home.

Ainsley about 20 minutes after she got the Benadryl and was washed off. It actually looked worse before that.

Allergy letter to parents of other kids in Ainsley's class

Some of you wanted to know the wording of the letter the school sent to the parents of the other kids in Ainsley's kindergarten class to inform them of her allergies. I am retyping it below. It's a standard letter the school district has for food allergies. On the back, the letter has a list of foods that are safe for Ainsley so that parents can send those foods to school for snack time (a different child is assigned to bring snack for the entire class each day). Ainsley doesn't eat the snack that's brought - she eats her own snack (she picks from a box we sent that the teacher keeps in the classroom) - but we still wanted kids to bring only snacks that were safe for Ainsley since they eat snack in the classroom.

The letter (front side):

Dear Parents:

A student in your child's kindergarten class this year has a severe food allergy to peanuts, all tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, pistachios), sesame seeds, eggs, and milk. We are distributing this letter to the parents to help you understand this situation and to help foster a safe and worry-free year for this student and his/her parents.

This student's allergy can be life-threatening and the student carries an Epi-Pen at all times. We need your help in maintaining a nut-free, egg-free, and milk-free environment in the classroom and ask that any classroom snacks or treats that you send be nut-free, egg-free, and milk-free. The allergy can be triggered not only by directly eating or coming into contact with the above but also by exposure to foods that contain any peanut/nut traces, oils, flours, or food that is processed in a plant with peanuts, nuts, eggs, and milk or sesame seeds. For this reason, most pre-made cookies, prepared cookie dough, and cookie mixes are off limits. Also, many bakeries use nut products, flavorings, or oils in their facilities or products. if you are sending in any type of classroom treats, please notify the teacher in advance so that arrangements can be made to ensure the allergic student has a safe snack or treat.

We want you and your child to understand that the student's allergy can be triggered even by ingesting or exposure to very small amounts of the above allergens. I will talk with the students in the classroom to discuss ways they can help keep the classroom safe, such as always washing hands after lunch or snacks, not bringing snacks with these allergens, etc.

The school realizes that helping us to maintain a nut-free, egg-free, and milk-free classroom takes a certain amount of effort and diligence on your part, and we thank you in advance for your cooperation in helping us maintain a safe, healthy environment for all of our students. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the school.


[The school nurse]

Back side:

This is a list of recommended snacks that are free of milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame seeds. The list below is not exhaustive and there may be more options. Please note that it is important to read the label as manufacturers are required to list the eight major potential allergens in bold type in or after the ingredients list.

Fresh Snacks
Fresh fruit
Raisins – plain only (not covered in anything else, like yogurt or chocolate)

Prepared Snacks
Bagels – Thomas brand only (original, cinnamon/brown sugar, blueberry, & whole wheat
flavors only)
Ritz Crackers (Nabisco) -- Original, Whole Wheat, Honey Butter, Hint of Salt, or
Roasted Vegetable flavors only (no Ritz Bits please – Ainsley is allergic to all types of them)
Ritz Muchables Pretzel Thins (Nabisco) – buttery flavor only
Wheat Thins (Nabisco) – original flavor only
Triscuits (Nabisco) – original flavor or reduced fat original flavor only
Triscuits Thin Crisps (Nabisco) – original flavor only
Teddy Grahams (Nabisco) – honey, cinnamon, chocolate chip, and chocolate flavors only
Honey Maid Graham Crackers (Nabisco) – original, honey, or cinnamon flavors only
Saltines (Nabisco) – plain or multigrain flavors only
Premium Soup & Oyster Crackers (Nabisco) – original flavor only
Keebler Original Club Crackers – original or multigrain flavors only
Keebler Town House Crackers – original flavor only
Keebler Grahams Bug Bites
Keebler Scooby Doo Graham Cracker Sticks – cinnamon or honey flavors only
Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies (Nabisco)
Barnum’s Animals Crackers (Nabisco)
Ginger Snaps (Nabisco)
Rold Gold Pretzels (including thins, sticks, tiny twists) – plain flavor only
Rold Gold Braided Twists – honey wheat flavor only
Quaker Quakes Rice Snacks -- apple cinnamon flavor only
Good Health Natural Foods Veggie Sticks / Veggie Chips
Pirate’s Booty – veggie flavor only (not the kind coated in cheese)
Snapea Crisps (by Calbee Snack Salad) – plain flavor only
Sun Chips – original flavor only
Cheerios – plain and multigrain flavors only
Frosted Mini Wheats (Kelloggs) – original flavor only
Oreo Cookies – original kind only
Stacy’s Pita Chips – plain or cinnamon sugar flavored only


I would love to say that all of the parents have diligently paid attention to this snack list and sent only safe snacks, but in reality I think some of them didn't read the letter at all and I know that at least a few have sent things like string cheese that are clearly unsafe. There is really nothing I can do about that as this is all about voluntary compliance. I do think that the kindergarten teacher doesn't serve certain things if they are brought, like peanut butter crackers, because she knows how much we fear those foods in particular (she has a few back-up snacks in her classroom).

I have already had to send a reminder/clarification email to the class parents because at Meet the Teacher night Ainsley's teacher mentioned that she had a child with a peanut allergy in her class and didn't mention Ainsley's other allergies. Some of the later questions from parents made clear that they thought Ainsley had only a peanut allergy. My follow-up email is below:

Hi fellow class parents,

For those of you who attended Meet the Teacher last night, I wanted to clarify that my daughter, Ainsley, is severely allergic not only to peanuts, but also to tree nuts (such as cashews, walnuts, etc.), dairy, eggs, and sesame seeds. That is why the letter the school nurse sent home about Ainsley listed all of those items as allergens, and that is why the suggested snack list on the back of that letter listed only foods that do not contain any of those allergens (if any of you did not see the suggested snack list on the back of that letter and no longer have the letter handy, I'd be more than happy to send a copy of the list to you if you let me know). We feel it is important for the snacks the other kids eat not to contain any of her allergens because it is so easy for the residue from those snacks to get on everything in the classroom since it will be on all the children's hands and they often eat the snacks in class.

It is true, however, that at lunch Ainsley can sit by other kids who are eating dairy, eggs, and sesame - she just can't sit by kids eating things like peanut butter & jelly because those sandwiches can be messy and the peanut butter (or other tree nut butter) might get onto her eating surface. Thus, the teacher checks the other kids' lunches and puts kids who do not have peanuts/peanut butter or tree nuts/tree-nut butter in their lunch around Ainsley.

As for birthday celebrations and parties, we definitely don't mind if you send treats that contain dairy and eggs as this wouldn't be an everyday thing like snacks (and it is so hard to find tasty treats that don't contain dairy & eggs). We would, however, appreciate it if you would avoid sending treats with peanuts/tree nuts in them as we would like to keep peanut/tree-nut residue from the classroom because it as particularly potent in terms of setting off an allergic reaction. Ainsley will have her own separate treat on those days so do not worry about her being left out!

Thanks so much for your understanding, and please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions.