Stories about: John Lee

Saving Grace

Grace 4It may seem like an insignificant thing, but a peanut butter cookie changed Grace Denney’s life forever. Just a small amount of peanut butter triggered an allergic reaction that left years of anxiety in its wake—and eventually lead Grace and her mother Richelle to Boston Children’s Hospital’s Food Allergy Program—which they credit with giving them their lives back.

A sudden onset

Growing up, Grace had always avoided peanuts. There was something about their smell that bothered the young girl so much that she went her first seven years without tasting a single nut or eating even a spoonful of peanut butter. But all that changed one day when she was at a baking event for a local youth ministry group.

Preparing goods for an upcoming bake sale, Grace was part of a team of girls making several types of treats, including a particularly delicious smelling batch of peanut butter and chocolate cookies. Thinking her tastes may have changed, Grace helped herself to one. Moments later her throat felt very dry and scratchy, making it difficult for her to breath, which scared both her and the adults supervising the event. When Richelle picked her daughter up that evening and heard what had happened, she suspected Grace might have had an allergic reaction and quickly made an appointment with an allergist.

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The high costs of food allergy

Between the near constant worry and strict monitoring of every type of food in the area, parenting a child with food allergy can be nerve-wracking and exhausting.

And according to research published by JAMA Pediatrics, it can also be extremely expensive.

The data shows pediatric food allergies cost an estimated $24.8 billion each year in the U.S, with a majority of that money coming from lost wages and missed career opportunities of the parents of children with food allergies whose jobs take a back seat to managing their child’s condition.

“A child’s food allergy often affects more than just his or her physical health, it impacts the whole family in a number of ways,” says John Lee, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital Food Allergy Program. “Depending on the severity of the allergy, keeping the child healthy can be more demanding and time consuming than a full-time job, leaving some parents with little time for employment.”

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First day of school — with food allergies

Back to school with food allergy.The first day of school isn’t just nerve-racking for kids—it can be tough on moms and dads too. After spending so many years looking after a child, packing their lunch and sending them off to be taught and supervised by adults you’ve never met before can be a lot to deal with.

That first day of school anxiety is often even stronger for the parents of children with food allergies, who worry if their children will be protected from reactions in the classroom.

“The idea of classrooms filled with children, foods and other potential allergy triggers can be scary for children with food allergies, and their parents,” says Dr. John Lee, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Food Allergy Program. “But thankfully, food allergy awareness has come a long way in the past few years. With a little extra planning from mom, dad, an allergist and the school, there’s no reason for school to cause extra anxiety for any child with allergies.” To do so, Lee recommends the following:

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Our patients’ stories: understanding (and beating) eosinophilic esophagitis

As an infant, Cameron Newbold hated eating. That’s not to say he was a finicky eater like some babies; he actually dreaded feeding times.

“Anytime we tried to feed him he’d freeze up, stiff as a board,” remembers his mother Kristina. “It was like he knew the food was making him sick. It was terrible.”

During feedings, Cameron cried, squirmed and would never eat more than a few ounces at a time. At 5 weeks old, he was hospitalized because he stopped eating, but a conclusive diagnosis couldn’t be found. The Newbolds left their local hospital with medication for reflux, a child who was still sick and few answers.

Over the next few years, Cameron was tested for dairy aversion and various food allergies, but most of the testing was inconclusive. He lived almost exclusively off soy yogurt (Kristina believes the cool, smooth food was soothing to him) and often felt too sick to play with other children, which affected how he related to his peers.

“Looking back now, it’s clear that Cameron felt sick just about all the time when he was younger,” Kristina says. “But because that’s all he had ever known, he didn’t really know how to express his discomfort, or when he felt worse than usual. As far as he knew, constantly feeling awful was what life was.”

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