In 2003, Amy Arneson suspected her 19-month-old son, Ethan, might have food allergies because he constantly threw up after eating. But doctors who saw Ethan told her she was overreacting. “Babies throw up,” they said.
Then she fed Ethan eggs one morning, and he had to receive epinephrine in an ambulance to make it to the emergency room. Later skin tests revealed that he was allergic to both eggs and peanuts.
Just a few of the foods that diagnosis eliminated for Ethan were donuts, cookies, pasta, candy bars, pudding and ice cream – basically what every growing boy would choose for every meal. Ethan couldn’t even have cake at birthday parties. When he stayed at friends’ homes, he’d have to bring his own snacks.
As difficult as that was for Ethan, it was equally hard or harder for his parents. However, Amy, a pediatric nurse, and her husband did everything they could to make that lifestyle tolerable and sustainable for their son.
A change in tune
The messages the Arnesons heard from clinicians who saw Ethan changed drastically over the years. Instead of the “He’ll grow out it” they heard when he was a toddler, the advice became it’s highly unlikely he’ll outgrow his allergies, as Ethan entered elementary school.
In fairness to the clinicians, the incidence of food allergies for children also changed drastically during that time. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies increased by around 18 percent from 1997 to 2007 in children younger than 18. So, it makes sense that doctors became more rigid about it.
But, like the casual dismissals when Ethan was young, the extreme avoidance mantras didn’t seem quite right to Amy, who began working as a nurse on the fourth floor of Children’s in 2008. She had heard that children could outgrow some allergies. She finally got the chance to see if that was the case with Ethan when she brought him to the Food Allergy Center at Children’s three years ago.
Food Allergy Center becomes home for Amy and Ethan
“I initially took him to another allergist in the area, and I asked him about food challenges, and he told me it wasn’t possible because Ethan was so allergic they thought even small samples would be risky,” Amy said.
“Then I went to see Dr. (Drew) Bird, and he told me it was possible. He gave him a skin-test and did some blood work first to see if it would be okay to give him an actual egg sample. That turned out okay. So, we came in for a food challenge to egg. Ethan ate a single serving of egg, baked in a cake, over the course of an hour and was observed for 2 hours after that. He passed the challenge and is now able to eat eggs that are baked in foods like cake and lasagna.”
Amy hit it off so well with the Food Allergy staff at Ethan’s appointments that they invited her to join the team. She’s served as a clinical research coordinator with them for the past three years.
“In my initial interview at Children’s, I was asked why I wanted to work here,” Amy said. “My answer was, ‘Because it’s the best.’ I still believe that almost six years later. Children’s is the best place to work and by far the best place to bring your child.”
Ethan continues to see Dr. Bird regularly. Ethan still can’t have whole eggs and his peanut allergy remains, but Amy is hopeful that he’ll fully outgrow both allergies someday.
In the meantime, he is enjoying getting to eat cake and cookies.