When Brett Nasuti was an infant, he was constantly breaking out in hives. His arms, legs, and even his face were always covered in small, itchy bumps. In fact, by the time he was a few months old, Brett’s mother Robyn had taken to cutting the ends off socks and sewing them over the arms of his baby clothes, so his budding fingernails didn’t scratch his skin raw. There were doctor visits and quick fix remedies, but nothing seemed to help for very long.
At eight months, Brett was given cow’s milk for the first time—with awful results. “He just started throwing up all over the place,” Robyn remembers. “It was terrible.”
Two months later, Brett was at Boston Children’s Hospital for an unrelated issue, but while there, a nurse recommended Brett get tested for food allergy. When the results came back, the cause of his eczema and stomach problems were clear.
“The tests showed he was ‘one hundred plus’ on the allergy scale,” Robyn says. “At that point, it all made sense. I thought back to months earlier where sometimes after I kissed him on his cheek, he would get hives in the shape of my lips. Turns out it was milk on my lips from coffee I had hours before. That’s how sensitive his system was to dairy.”
For the next several years, Robyn went through what many parents of children with severe food allergies go through—she learned as much as she could about the condition, adapted her family’s lifestyle as best as she could and spent a lot of time worrying when Brett left the house. Living with that much extra work and stress was difficult, so when Robyn learned researchers at Boston Children’s were working on a new treatment that could reduce—possibly even eliminate her son’s milk allergy—both she and Brett were very interested.
A new approach to treating milk allergy
Brett was soon enrolled in a first-of-its-kind study that combined a powerful anti-allergy medication and a methodical desensitization process that gradually made his body more “used” to milk and dairy.
Over the course of a few weeks, a then nine-year-old Brett received a special anti-allergy medication that weakened his body’s response to milk. After a few weeks, he continued to get the medication but also started a desensitization process where he drank very small doses of cow’s milk. (If the body is given small, but increasingly larger amounts of an allergy trigger like milk or peanuts—usually not enough to cause a reaction—the body sometimes develops the ability to tolerate it better.)
The combined one-two punch of the medication and desensitization trained Brett’s body to accept milk, and soon he was weaned off the medication while eating up to two ounces of dairy every day, which he still does to this day. (Daily milk exposure helps keep his body “used” to milk.)
It’s been five years since Brett became Boston Children’s first patient to go through the medication/desensitization process, and he’s still doing well. Current testing shows zero signs of an allergy to milk in his system, and as long as he continues his daily intake of two ounces of dairy, his doctors are hopeful he may never need to worry about his milk allergy again.
And while Brett won’t miss much about having to avoid dairy, he says there are aspects of his life he wouldn’t change, even if he could. “Living with a food allergy is hard, but in a lot of ways, it’s helped shape who I am,” he says. “It’s given me the opportunity to learn about myself and to help other people, which has become really important to me.”
For the past few summers, Brett has worked as a counselor at a summer camp for children with food allergy, teaching them how to live with their condition and remind them that they’re not alone in dealing with it. He’s also slated to travel to the Dominican Republic next year as part of a school trip that places students in local communities to benefit school systems through volunteer work.
“I never would have been able to work at the camp if not for my allergy, but at the same time, I also wouldn’t be able to travel to the Dominican Republic if I was still severely allergic to milk, because there are just too many opportunities for things to go wrong,” he says. “But with that behind me, I’m able to go there and help people, which is great. The treatment I received at Boston Children’s has really opened so many doors for me, and I’m really looking forward to everything the future holds.”