In Maryland, families and friends are coming together to free children from life-threatening food allergies. Nearly 8 percent of young children in this country have at least one food allergy, and that percentage is on the rise.
Led by Chuck and Olga Paterakis, a group of dedicated parents are hosting an Inaugural Charity Golf Tournament at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md., Sept. 26, and inviting others to join them in supporting the research of Hopkins Children’s world-renowned pediatric food allergy expert, Robert Wood. Wood is not only on the trail of cures, but already providing them to many of his study participants.
The Paterakis’s son, Evan, above, was cured last year of a deadly milk allergy in an ongoing study of Wood’s in which children are very gradually exposed to milk, sometimes simply in the forms of tiny drops under the tongue, until their immune system adapts.
“We have known the terrors of food allergies and the fantastic research Dr. Wood is leading to try to cure them,” says Chuck Paterakis.
An outbreak of head-to-toe welts was not the reaction he and his wife expected in 1997 when their then 8-month-old son had his first taste of solid food – French toast, says Paterakis, who helps run his family’s H&S Bakery in Baltimore. “The reaction sent us to Dr. Wood, Evan’s pediatrician, whom we had not known specialized in food allergies.”
Evan was subsequently found to be allergic to dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. “It was an overwhelming diagnosis,” says his mother, Olga. “We realized that every meal could potentially be life-threatening and that we would have to be forever vigilant about everything he ate and touched.”
At the time, the only method of treating food allergies was to avoid foods that triggered them. For Evan and his family this meant constant vigilance about foods and never being out of reach of an EpiPen, for an immediate injection of epinephrine.
Some children outgrow food allergies, and Evan eventually outgrew his to eggs and fish. But allergies to the others persisted. Then, at the age of 12, he took part in one of Wood’s oral immunotherapy studies, and was gradually exposed to increasing doses of milk protein.
“Our findings suggest that oral immunotherapy gradually retrains the immune system to completely disregard or to better tolerate the allergens in milk that led to allergic reactions,” says Wood, senior investigator on the study and director of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Hopkins Children’s.
After Wood’s therapy, Evan was able to celebrate his 13th birthday with a menu of pizza and cake. “Evan’s self-confidence has increased tremendously since being able to eat dairy,” says his mother. “He is now able to eat the lunches that the school provides and doesn’t have to go to the ‘special’ food line.”
Elated, the Paterakises talked to friends about raising funds to support Wood’s research, which includes the study of dairy, peanuts and other allergens.Before long, other concerned parents and fellow Marylanders Bart Butler, Allison Doriss and Frances Apostolo joined the organizing effort. A partner at the law firm of Schulman, Treem & Gilden in Baltimore, Leslie Hershfield also signed on. His daughter, Alexandra, 7, is highly allergic to milk, eggs, pistachios and cashews.
“Dr. Wood has been the only source of hope for us,” says Hershfield, whose daughter just began Wood’s third milk oral immunotherapy study. “We are very lucky she was accepted into one of Dr. Wood’s groundbreaking studies. His studies lay the foundation for worldwide treatment of these children.”
The Hershfield home is currently a nut-, dairy- and egg-free one. Family efforts to prevent life-
threatening exposure for Alexandra have included supplying non-dairy, nut-free candy to neighbors to hand out at Halloween, non-dairy, nut-free ingredients to her school to build students’ annual holiday “gingerbread” houses, and bags of non-allergen pretzels for snacks at the school’s barn, where she rides in summer camp. Hershfield and his wife, Heidi, are even school lunch monitors.
“Having a child with a food allergy changes your life and lifestyle,” says Hershfield. “Even the simplest events like going to the movies, school, birthday parties and vacations are particularly dangerous and life-threatening situations. As parents, we are fiercely protective of our children and their health and well-being. Dr. Wood is just as fierce in fighting for the cure to restore a normal life for these children. This event is an example of how we can support and further these efforts, as parents.”
Funds raised by the September golf tournament will help fuel Wood’s studies. The tournament includes a box lunch, golf and cart fee, and dinner. In addition to playing golf, supporters can purchase a sponsorship or an ad in the program, donate a raffle item or help spread the word about the tournament. Added incentives include a dinner and informational session with Dr. Wood,” which can be attended by non-golfers as well. Learn more
“While we are still a decade or more away from a food allergy treatment for the general public that would allow patients to eat the foods they’re allergic to without fear of a life-threatening reaction, our ongoing research here suggests that true cures will be possible,” says Wood. “Philanthropy is hastening their approach and moving us toward ever better therapies.
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