Tanya Gesslein had the fright of her life while visiting an open house in 2014.
She looked in shock as her five-year-old son, Isaiah, began turning a bright share of red. Tears welled up in his eyes as he began vomiting.
“He told me his mouth felt funny,” said the Colwood mom. “In that moment, I just remember him saying that he wanted to lie down. It was one of the scariest moments to experience.”
Isaiah had eaten a chocolate chip cookie at the open house, which was made with a spoon previously used to make peanut butter cookies.
He had just experienced his first allergic reaction to peanuts.
Now, 11-year-old Isaiah is eating peanut products – ‘Bamba’ to be exact. Bamba is a crunchy corn-puffed snack coated with a light layer of liquid peanut butter. Every day, Isaiah eats two puffs in order to build his tolerance.
The process is called oral immunotherapy (OIT), in which progressive doses of the allergen are given for an extended period of time. It’s run by the allergen and immunology department at BC Children’s Hospital.
The program is aimed at possibly curing children with severe food allergies, such as peanuts, walnuts, cashews and pistachios.
“At the time, the only advice [by doctors] was to always carry an EpiPen and avoid peanuts at all costs,” Gesslein said. “To be honest, I got quite depressed. It’s been such a change. If you had told me this was a possibility before, I don’t know if I would’ve believed it.”
In the future, Isaiah will aim to reach four puffs a day and may even attempt small portions of peanut butter.
“There’s a photo of one of the kids I worked with eating peanut butter out of the jar hanging in my office,” said Dr. Scott Cameron, a Victoria-based pediatric allergist and immunologist. “To be able to walk into a restaurant and not worry about your kids is freeing. Some parents have cried when I told them they don’t need to carry an EpiPen anymore.”
Currently, there is a one-year waitlist for children under the age of seven to get into the program. According to Cameron, there is a shortage of allergists in the province. Participants must be tested for at least two and a half hours by health officials to see their reaction to various allergens.
Cameron, who works closely at BC Children’s Hospital’s allergy and immunology department, will be at an upcoming skate fundraiser in support of OIT research.
Skate for Food Allergies, organized by Gesslein, takes place on Sunday, Feb. 16 from 4 to 5 p.m. For an hour, attendees can skate with the Victoria Grizzlies and have the chance to chat with Cameron and his colleague, Dr. Victoria Cook about treatments for severe food allergies.
Attendees will need to bring their own skates. Skate admission is included with game tickets when the Grizzlies go head to head against the Powell River Kings. Tickets are available at victoriagrizzlies.com.