When Conner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was little, he would sometimes be a picky eater – but he had good reason to be picky. Sometimes he would get a little nauseated, sick to his stomach and from time to time he would get hives.
When Conner was almost 5 years old, he had an event that not only changed his life, but the lives of his entire family.
One day leading up to the holiday season, Conner was enjoying plain M&Ms at his grandparents’ house – Conner loved M&Ms. Conner had never had any problems eating them before, but this time was different.
“He got really red, almost like a sunburn all over his body. He didn’t look right. But, it kind of dissipated and we went on with our night,” remembers Conner’s mom, Michelle.
Conner’s family didn’t think much of it, until the next night when he had more M&Ms.
“This time he was progressively worse – it started with reddening of the skin and then his face started to morph; almost like it was taking a different shape, getting big and puffy,” recalled Michelle. “His dad drove him to the area walk-in clinic that is used for quick emergencies. They gave him EpiPen® injections almost immediately.”
Conner was referred to an allergist and underwent allergy testing. He was diagnosed with a severe peanut and tree nut allergy.
A second opinion
Conner’s diagnosis came as a little bit of a surprise to Michelle, because he would eat peanut butter sandwiches with no problems. Michelle always wanted a second opinion and to have Conner tested again.
When Conner was 13, he and his parents made the trek from Upper Michigan to the Prevea Howard Health Center to meet Prevea Allergist, Dr. Bradley Locke
“When we went for our first visit, we told Dr. Locke our story and he was amazing,” recalls Michelle. “Dr. Locke gave us info on EpiPens®, allergies and talked about what types of tests he would recommend. He educated us with useful and important information that was not shared with us when Conner was first diagnosed. Looking back, I was overwhelmed when we were told that he had a severe allergy; that we should avoid peanut butter, all nuts and make sure we have EpiPens® with us at all times. A severe allergy could mean death.”
Dr. Locke retested Conner for all of the allergies topically and in addition to that they did blood work as well. All of the tests came back negative – meaning he had no allergies.
“Dr. Locke did not feel he was diagnosed properly and that he would not have immediately expected tree nut or peanut as a source of the event that happened,” said Michelle.
Even though all of the tests came back negative, Dr. Locke told Conner’s parents that he would be a good candidate for something called a Food Challenge.
A Food Challenge is exactly what it sounds like. The patient eats graduated amounts of the food that is being challenged. First, the food is rubbed on the patient's lip, then gradually increasing the dosage to include a full serving of the food by the end of the challenge.
Although the Food Challenge made Michelle and her husband a little nervous, Dr. Locke reassured them.
“Dr. Locke told us about Food Challenges that they’ve had in their office and the fact that they’ve been highly successful and wouldn’t advise if there was something concerning,” said Michelle. “He educated us with regard to how close medical facilities were and that they were on standby with albuterol and EpiPens®; but also that his own staff would be on hand in the event that a reaction would occur.”
Conner and his parents spent the entire morning at Dr. Locke’s office. Every 15 minutes a nurse would come in and administer peanut butter to Conner. Then, she would take vitals and administer a higher dose of peanut butter. The cycle continued all morning.
Conner did not have any reactions to the peanut butter.
A food allergy affects the entire family. The entire family had to be very careful – they hadn’t been able to go to a lot of restaurants or family functions because even if peanut butter wasn’t present, there was always a risk of cross contamination with foods and not knowing what ingredients were used.
“We had to always be concerned where we could eat and would often eat beforehand,” remembers Michelle. “Now, we’re living a whole new experience by being able to go out to dinner as a family at different places, it’s been really wonderful. I feel very fortunate.”
Conner’s 9-year-old brother Garret hadn’t had peanut butter either and was also tested to make sure they had nothing to worry about. Now, Garret can explore new foods as well.
“He’s always had to live by our family’s rule of not having any peanut butter or tree nuts of sorts. He was excited,” said Michelle.
Conner is involved in all sorts of activities. He plays the trumpet in both the school and jazz band. He also loves to ski, bowl and enjoys all kinds of music. Not only is he fun and funny, but he’s family-oriented.
This year, was Conner’s first time to go trick-or-treating for Halloween where he was able to enjoy the holiday and eat everything he received.
“He had Snickers bars which he always dreamed of having,” said Michelle.
The mystery remains
Although Conner does not have a severe peanut or tree nut allergy, they will never know what caused him to have a severe reaction when Conner was a little boy.
“It’s hard for Dr. Locke to really diagnose because it happened in the past. But he had indicated to us that it could have been some type of reaction to a virus,” said Michelle. “It’s something that I wish we knew, it’s the missing link here.”
There are many things that Michelle has learned from this experience, a big one is having a better understanding of what people who have severe food allergies go through day in and day out.
“So many people don’t realize that taking your kids somewhere with peanuts and tree nuts can kill somebody,” said Michelle.
Conner’s family is still in a bit of shock that they are not restricted by peanut and tree nuts as they were for 9 years.
“I just would never have imagined that we would be able to walk away from there with the ability to have peanuts and tree nuts. I just never would have imagined that,” said Michelle.