John, Tamsin & Jack’s Story
John Schwab is an actor, director, producer and musician. He is also a member of the Anaphylaxis Campaign and has a son with multiple allergies.
“Our son Jack had fairly severe eczema as a baby and sometimes when he ate egg his eyes became puffy, but generally he was a healthy little boy and ate all the normal stuff kids eat. When he was 3 we went on a family holiday to Menorca and it was going great! One evening I cracked open a beer and Jack opened a bag of cashew nuts. We were not concerned as he had eaten all sorts of stuff before. Jack then said, “Mummy, Daddy I don’t feel so good.” He then vomited. I said to my wife, “I think he is allergic to nuts, get some help!”
My wife Tamsin screamed for help and about three cars turned up. Luckily a lady also heard us who had an adrenaline auto-injector in her house. We administered this into Jack’s thigh. This saved Jack’s life, as this gave him much needed time.
We then drove to the nearest hospital and sat in the waiting room to see a doctor & when it was our turn the doctor told us to take Jack to another hospital which would be better equipped to treat Jack’s reaction. So we drove fast to the next hospital. By now Jack was shaking and in a bad way. My wife ran into the emergency room with Jack, who by this stage had gone into a severe anaphylactic shock, and was limp in her arms. The doctors and emergency staff rushed to help. It was terrifying as it was touch and go whether he would pull through. Thankfully he did, Jack is 10 now.
When we got back from that holiday we were referred to Dr Young at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She was incredible. We were so scared, we had never seen anything like Jack’s reaction before. It was completely out of our realm of knowledge. Dr Young helped to make the situation manageable.
Now we go for checkups once a year at St Thomas’ Hospital. Jack has been tested for 36 allergens; he is very allergic to cashew nuts and pistachios. Surprisingly his peanut reaction was low, as was his response to almonds, although when Jack was 5 he reacted after eating them and had to be taken to hospital.
We found out about the Anaphylaxis Campaign after I did a Google search. We love the Campaign’s website and all the information that is on there. We joined straight away; it is a great organisation for families like us.
As Jack is getting older he is becoming more trusting of other adults and situations, in the past he could get quite anxious about events like visiting his friends’ houses and going to birthday parties. At school we make his meals for him to take in and his teachers have been great, very supportive.
As a family we actually eat much healthier now as we look at food labels so stringently. This has made all of us so much more aware of what we are eating, rather than just piling it up! We are also completely nut free at home. It is an ongoing worry, and it does get to Jack sometimes as he feels he is different to his friends which sometimes makes him feel depressed. However as Jack is getting older he is becoming more confident. He is a really busy kid with lots going on, which is great. Going forwards we really want Jack to meet other kids in the same situation so they can discuss their coping strategies and get support from each other.
When Jack goes to a party we always make sue that the organisers are aware of Jack’s allergy and we give Jack a packet of Haribos to replace the cakes and cookies. It is hard though; sometimes a cake will be served which has nuts on despite our planning.
We do travel a fair bit and we try to plan as much as we can in advance. For example, contacting the airline and requesting nut free meals and snacks for Jack. Long haul flights can be stressful as you are on the aircraft for such a long time. We have seen peanuts on the floor and one time they tried to serve Jack a meal with cashew nuts on it even though we had asked in advance for a nut free meal.
In the US it is actually a lot easier. Food over there seems to have much clearer labeling and they also cook a lot with corn flour, which is also great for people with wheat intolerances.
I have been using a Theatre Group I am involved in called ‘Word Theatre’ to raise awareness and funds for the Campaign. I really want to support Campaign as they have been so supportive to my family.”
Mike & Karen’s Story
Mike and Karen are the parents of three children, two have nut allergies. Here Karen tells us their story.
“Danika was nearly four when she was diagnosed with a severe nut allergy. When Danika was due to start school we had our parental forms to fill in. One asked for medical history and I filled in that she had a nut allergy. Later that day I had a phone call from the headmistress asking me where her medication was. I didn’t know what she was talking about. She informed me that if I didn’t get Danika an Epipen before the next day, she wouldn’t be allowed back in school. I saw a doctor, got the Epipen and was told that Danika would be referred to a specialist to determine the full details of her allergy.
We decided to go private as the NHS waiting list was two years, and met with a consultant where we learnt the hard, cold facts about anaphylaxis.
I was stunned. All I could think of was the times that she had been left at friends’ houses and parties and how we had eaten at restaurants and how lucky we’d been so far. It seemed as if she was a ticking time bomb! Our other children were then tested and our son tested positive to nuts and peanuts — hearing that was devastating and a complete shock.
When we found out about the allergies we joined the Anaphylaxis Campaign who have provided us with ongoing information and support.
My worry as a mother never goes. Danika is now in high school and has to carry her own Epipens. I have shown her best friend how to recognise a reaction and how to use an Epipen. Handing over the responsibility of the Epipens to them is vital but difficult because you are losing control and it’s the control that makes you feel safe. Danika is very good but Rourke has left his at various places, but he is learning.”