Highland Falls mom shares her son's allergy experience



And gives tips on how to always be prepared for a reaction

What triggers an allergic reaction in a young child is largely unknown, particularly when babies move on to the introduction of new foods. When Jeannine O’Donnell’s young son Chris started vomiting the first time she gave him baby yogurt, she didn’t know he was allergic to anything.

Chris broke out in hives, and Jeannine acted quickly by giving him Benadryl®. She took her son to her doctor and soon learned that he was allergic not only to milk, but also to eggs and peanuts. And due to a high probability of cross contamination in processing, he must also avoid tree nuts (such as pecans and walnuts).     

“Even me, I’m a nurse, I’m a mom,” O’Donnell says. “I didn’t realize how severe [food allergies] could become. It is hard to understand if you don’t live it.”

The O’Donnells don’t leave their Highland Falls home without their son’s Epi-pen Jr., children’s Benadryl or disinfectant wipes.

Not only is their youngest son allergic by ingestion, he also has a contact allergy to dairy products. He has touched surfaces like grocery carts, restaurant tables and even church pews, reacting to traces of residue left from something as common as cheese crackers.

When a reaction occurs, Dad and Mom are prepared. “We know that if we wash his hands and face right away,” she says, “the hives will clear up.”

O’Donnell and her husband have taken every opportunity to learn about food allergies and to educate their support network, including friends, family and babysitters. And when Chris goes to a friend’s house or a party, the parents hosting the party need to be aware of Chris’s allergies.

Chris recently attended a preschool birthday celebration – a cake decorating party. His mom prepared a special mini-cake and icing to bring along for Chris to decorate and eat. The host parents were not at all offended. O’Donnell had explained the allergy concerns ahead of time so that she didn’t arrive at the doorstep sounding all the alarms.

“You feel different,” O’Donnell says, “but at least you get to participate. He loved it and the birthday child is his favorite girl.”  As Chris prepares to enter kindergarten in fall 2008, his mother is confident that her son will be safe and that she will feel comfortable with his environment.

She recommends that all parents with food allergy concerns read FAAN’s Back-to-School information and review everything with caregivers.

“Setting up meetings with the teacher, the principal and the school nurse is important,”

O’Donnell says. “And the Epi-pen® should be everywhere that the child will be.”

An Epi-pen is an auto-injector containing a single dose of epinephrine that must be used at the first sign of anaphylaxis (signs include respiratory attack, gasping for breath, and choking). The medication works to constrict blood vessels, relax muscles in the lungs to improve breathing, stimulates the heartbeat and reverses hives and swelling around the face and lips.  Dr. Scinto encourages Epi-pen training and re-training for all parents, caregivers and adults in a child’s support network.

“You don’t want to waste any time,” says Dr. Scinto. “With the Epi, I’d rather have someone know how it works before they actually need to use it.”

Marny Moscatello, a registered nurse with the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District, has been a nurse for 18 years and tries to help others learn to administer the medication without feeling uncomfortable. Along with serving as an advocate for the safety of children, she has had first-hand experience.

“My husband has a severe tree nut allergy,” Moscatello explains. “He’s had to be rushed to the hospital. Years ago, we didn’t know as much about it.  People now are much more in tune with the seriousness of allergies.”  As Moscatello greets new students each year, she can’t stress enough the importance for up-to-date health records.

“I have to remind parents to keep their school records and histories updated,” she says. “I need medical records and with nursing, especially in a children’s school, I’m a little bit of a mother, an advocate, the nurse, a lot of different things.”

My son was once chased with a peanut butter cracker, which amounts to a physical threat. This behavior goes beyond bullying. Parents can help themselves and their children by staying prepared and informing school officials as well as other families and a child’s peers of the seriousness of some allergic reactions.


Mary Ann Ebner is a freelance writer. She and he family live in Orange County.