Living with allergies isn’t something you should be concerned about talking to others about. In fact, being open and talking about the allergies you are living with could make things easier. The more people who have knowledge of the day to day struggles and the potentially fatal consequences, the better it will be for everyone. This is certainly something two brave young girls from St Ninian’s High school in East Renfrewshire thought.
Martha, aged 12 who has an allergy to peanuts and Holly, aged 17 who has allergies to milk (protein), nuts and avocado showed extreme courage as they spoke about their allergies to fellow pupils and teachers. The girls felt it was important to share their daily experiences and knowledge. The aim was to raise awareness and to educate the people around them about severe allergies, in the hope that anyone living with allergies would feel a little safer and less embarrassed.
The presentation covered a variety of facts from; what is an allergy, how allergic reactions happen, common allergens, symptoms, and treatment including medication and how to use it. They even had a few willing volunteers to demonstrate how to administer an adrenaline auto-injector using a training device. On top of the facts, they also spoke about understanding the effect of teasing has on young people. They showed their peers how to help instead – for example helping their friends remember their kit. A short video produced by Aimmune Therapeutics, “Leo’s story” was included to help the pupils understand how hard it is to live with an allergy.
Martha says, “I was being teased and so were some of my friends with severe allergies. I wanted people to realise that this isn’t a joke and it doesn’t define all of me. I hoped that if people understood how serious allergies can be, then they wouldn’t tease.”
Holly says, “Many of the teachers were impressed with the delivery and they were glad we did the talk and I personally feel more confident, and safer.”
It is important to understand how teasing can be upsetting but to tease someone about a medical condition cannot be excused.
The support the girls had from family members, friends, and teachers at St Ninian’s High School was amazing. Offers of help and encouragement came throughout the process. Paula, Martha’s mother, who is a volunteer for the Anaphylaxis Campaign, downloaded our Schools Allergy Awareness Resource Pack, which formed the base of the presentation.
Mr. John Docherty, Head Teacher said “Martha and Holly’s presentation was excellent and very well received by all pupils and staff. It was clearly on a subject that was very personal to them and their passion was evident for all to see. The presentation was extremely informative about the signs of anaphylaxis and what to do should you be with someone who has an allergy. We are very proud of both Holly and Martha who showed exceptional leadership of their peers and teachers.”
Before the presentation, the general knowledge of allergies and their effects was very low amongst the pupils. The girls aim to educate fellow pupils was a real success as their presentation was well received with lots of positive feedback. Comments included; “very educational, I understand that teasing can result in less confidence and we have the necessary information to quickly and safely respond in an emergency”. Due to this positive and well-executed presentation, the schools have also asked for Paula to hold separate presentations for all the staff.
One 12-year-old pupil said: “I really enjoyed the presentation as it taught me how to possibly save a friends life if they have anaphylaxis and I didn’t know that you could be allergic to such a wide range of products”
Not everyone will feel that doing presentations to large groups is within their reach, but even talking to their friends or people they hang around with goes a long way to achieving great awareness. Both Martha and Holly not only feel a sense of achievement but also feel safer in the school environment knowing that the pupils around them understand the seriousness of allergies and how to help in an emergency.
“We are so proud of them for their courage but also that they have shown other young people who are just as self-conscious and embarrassed that they can be confident, brave and unashamed.” Said Paula McMahon, Martha’s mother.
Both the girls believe that you must try to be confident in talking to other people about your allergy. People can’t help or understand if they don’t know about severe allergies. Always carry your kit with you, it can save your life and don’t let it hold you back.