For Grace Neill, staying away from peanuts is always top of mind. One bite could turn fatal, so she carries benadryl and an EpiPen® at all times.
But one week out of every year Grace gets to feel like a normal 12-year-old. She makes sure to carve time out of her busy schedule for Food Allergy Camp, a place where she says, “I feel like I do not even have an allergy because I don’t have to think about it like I do at home or school. It is not always an option to try new foods when you are allergic to something, but I know I can try everything at camp.”
When Grace was 2 years old, she reacted quickly to her first ever bite of peanut butter and couldn’t stop itching all over her body. Her mom, Sara, decided to steer clear of peanuts for the next two years and had her tested at age 4. The results showed a very severe allergy with a high percentage of being fatal.
“We are a peanut-free house, and Grace brings her lunch to school every day,” says Sara. ”She does not eat foods prepared in a bakery or at ice cream parlors due to cross contamination issues. When going to a birthday party, we check it out beforehand, or she brings her own food. Now that she is in middle school, the issue is more about outings to Six Flags, water parks and friends’ houses. The other day she was on a band trip to Six Flags and didn’t eat all day because there was nothing she knew to be safe.”
A Safe Haven
All of these worries seem to melt away as soon as August hits and Grace is at Food Allergy Camp. She started going to camp at the end of fourth grade and continues today. Sara says she was nervous as she dropped Grace off for the first time.
“She had never been away from home that long without some sort of family member,” says Sara. ”I felt good about the medical care and the staff, but I was worried about her not knowing a soul. I cried as the bus pulled out of the parking lot.”
One of the reasons Sara feels comfortable with the staff at Children’s is because she experienced the hospital as a patient back in the day.
“My mom has always said Children’s is the best, and she is right. The orientation night for camp helped me immensely. They had nurses and Dr. Bird answering questions, the dietitian, camp director and everyone who would have a hand in your child’s care.”
To Sara’s relief, Grace got off the bus after the first year at camp bursting with happiness and stories of good times.
All the friends I have met at camp are good people, and I love hanging out with them,” says Grace. “We keep in touch through email, texting and Instagram.”
“I am grateful to Children’s for giving Grace these experiences,” says Sara. “If it were not for Food Allergy Camp, she probably would never have this experience. It is such a weight lifted to know she is having the time of her life and very knowledgeable people are watching what she eats. It is the best!”
Food Allergy Camp at Camp Sweeney
August 12-16, 2013
Ages 7 to 15
Deadline to Apply: May 31
Applications available in Food Allergy Center or request
via email at firstname.lastname@example.org