A mother's struggle with food allergies at home, school

CREATED Sep 3, 2014

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MILWAUKEE - With a day of school under their belts, kids across the country are back in the classroom, on the playground, and in the lunchroom. For some kids, this means another year of avoiding foods because of their allergies. 
 
It's not just a struggle for children suffering from food allergies; there can be a learning curve for their parents as well. Nilsa Tremaine is a mother of five, and two of her children have severe food allergies. She and her husband discovered that their son Jeremiah had a deadly allergy when he was barely a year old. 
 
"He was about 13 months old and we were putting some birdseed into a birdfeed," Tremaine remembered, "and I didn't think much about it either. The next thing I knew he was completely broken out in hives and his hands were completely swollen.  They looked like little baseball mitts, both hands, and I totally freaked out." 
 
She had never thought twice that just touching birdseed could be harmful to children. It turned out there were peanuts in the birdseed mix, and Jeremiah was highly allergic to the nuts. This started a lifelong journey for the Tremaine family, where "normal things like trick-or-treating or birthday parties" and going to restaurants became a challenge. Jeremiah was even bullied at school because of his allergy. 
 
"When my son was in first grade, there was a little boy who would eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day and he would tease Jeremiah, you know, like 'Ohh here!' and put his peanut butter jelly sandwich by him," Tremaine said. "And I called the mom and I said 'You know, that's the equivalent of your son waving a loaded gun in his face.'" 
 
It's not just other children, either. Tremaine said that one of the biggest challenges has been educating other parents and teachers. 
 
"People aren't aware," she said, "people don't realize how serious it is. They think, oh, they might sneeze a little bit or they might get some watery eyes. They don't realize.  My son has had an anaphylactic reaction where his throat has swelled and we've had to rush him to Children's. Three medications and an IV later, I mean, it takes a lot.  It's very serious." 
 
Since food allergies are on the rise nationally, teachers are more aware about procedures to treat students' allergies in the classroom and on field trips. But there are still misunderstandings, and the primary responsibility falls on parents to stay involved and remind teachers frequently. Tremaine remembers getting her seven-year-old daughter ready for school this year.  She also has severe food allergies. 
 
"Her new teacher says, 'I have the EpiPens from last year,' and I said, 'well, wait, they expire every year,'" she explained. "We have to make sure that the EpiPens aren't expired, we have to keep them on our person all the time. If there's a field trip at school, we have to make sure that teachers take them with." 
 
Tremaine's son is now halfway through high school, and she explains that the newest challenge is ensuring that Jeremiah knows how to live with his allergy on his own. 
 
"He has to learn to be responsible to read labels," she said, "and he has to learn if he goes out to a friend's house to be careful and to be vocal about it." 
 
For Nilsa Tremaine and her family, like many others across the nation, living with severe allergies has become a way of life. 
 
"It's been a challenge," she said. "It's become a natural part of our life, but definitely something we weren't prepared for initially.  I had to do a lot of learning on my part."