Keeping Your Allergic Kid Safe
When Shoshana Eisenberg's son was diagnosed with severe food allergies, life became a lot more complicated
Photo by Liz Lynch at Seasons 52 in North Bethesda
Two years ago, when Shoshana Eisenberg saw her son Joshua being chased around a park by a child who was holding a doughnut, she could tell how scared her little boy was. She was scared, too. Joshua, now 4, is allergic to eggs, dairy products, peanuts and several other foods. Even at 2, he knew the doughnut could make him sick. “Sometimes people don’t understand the level of fear,” says Eisenberg, 38, who lives in Kensington.
While Eisenberg says Joshua probably wouldn’t have reacted if he simply touched the doughnut, she asked the other child’s mother to intervene. “I think the language you use is important,” she says. “I don’t just say he’s allergic; I say he has life-threatening allergies, because there’s so much food language out there and so many different diets and I want people to understand that this is very serious.”
Joshua has had severe eczema, which can be an early indicator of food allergies, since he was an infant. He had his first allergic reaction at 8 months old, when he swelled up and vomited after eating something containing eggs. Eisenberg and her husband, Harry Burgess, a neuroscientist at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, decided to take him to the emergency room. That was one of two times that Joshua, who’s also allergic to pollen, leaf mold and dust, has been given epinephrine, a medication used to counter a potentially dangerous allergic reaction.
“Joshua seemed to be getting sick every time we tried to give him a new food,” says Eisenberg, who now carries two EpiPens and Benadryl in her purse and brings food with her everywhere. Her other children, ages 7 and 9, have never had allergies. “That initial period was very challenging.”
Before her kids were born, Eisenberg worked as an attorney for a nonprofit, where part of her job was matching families with services. After a friend suggested that others might learn from her experience with Joshua, Eisenberg found an online program called AllerCoach and completed training as an allergy consultant in June 2015. Last fall she started a business called DC Food Allergy Coach to work with parents on issues such as how to make the kitchen safe, what to do when traveling, and how to read food labels, things allergists don’t always cover during medical appointments. Says Eisenberg, “My hope was that I could begin helping other families that are dealing with this.”
In her own words…
On Dining Out
“Chipotle is a great fast-food option for people with allergies. On their website they have a chart where they list the allergens that are in their facilities. Breadsmith in Potomac is a nut-free bakery, and they make an egg-free loaf. Seasons 52—we recently went there for a special occasion and they were unbelievably accommodating. They had his food marinating the day before in a special tray that was not contaminated by any other food.”
Piece of Cake
“My son has never yet complained about not having the cake that everyone else has—he is so happy to be at a party and be part of things. I can bring a special treat for him, but I can’t give him the identical experience to all the other children.”
“Both of my other children eat eggs and dairy, [so] we still have those allergens in the house, but everyone has [their own] seat at the table. Josh always sits in the same seat. I even give him a different glass. We have eliminated the seeds and nuts that he’s allergic to from our house. To have that constant risk—for me, that wasn’t going to be workable.”
“When Josh was 3, I accidentally gave him a small amount of baked egg. I bought a brand of lasagna noodles that I had bought before, but I didn’t realize the company made two types, and I didn’t read the box carefully enough. He was sick all night. Before that, I thought I was so vigilant that I would be able to keep him safe. [Then] I realized that these reactions are inevitable. You need to prepare yourself.”
Staying Close to Home
“My husband is from Australia. I wanted to plan a trip when Josh was an infant, but once we discovered all the allergies, I just couldn’t book that ticket over the Pacific Ocean. The idea of being 15 hours away from medical care—an EpiPen lasts 15 minutes, then you’re supposed to be at a medical facility because the epinephrine wears off. We finally went this summer.”
“All of his preschool teachers have been very vigilant. I did train some of the staff by having them practice with my old EpiPens. I think a lot of parents, even of allergic children, have had EpiPens with them for years and have not actually tried to use one.”
Associate Editor Kathleen Seiler Neary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.