Our post today is a special guest blog entry from Gina Clowes, founder of AllergyMoms.com and author of One of the Gang: Nurturing the Souls of Children with Food Allergies. We would like to thank her for guest blogging for us.
As Tom Poti skates by you at lightening speed, you might never imagine that a trace of peanut butter would be the one thing that could slow him down. Tom’s food allergies are so severe that even trace contact with it has caused serious reactions in the past. Yet, these allergies didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams. Tom Poti is a National Hockey League defenseman for the Washington Capitals, and was part of the USA hockey team that won the silver metal in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Being a role model, Tom wants to share some important message with our kids: “Never let food allergies stop you!”
This is the most important message in my book “One of the Gang: Nurturing the Souls of Children with Food Allergies” and Tom Poti is the perfect person to deliver it. So I was delighted when Tom agreed to be part of my book and also grateful that he revealed more with me about his perspective on growing up with food allergies.
Tom Poti grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts and recalls that from early on everything he ate made him sick until extensive allergy testing revealed seasonal, environmental and multiple food allergies including: peanuts, tree nuts, chocolate, msg and fish.
Doctors recommended he participate in sports to keep his lungs healthy but playing outdoors often triggered asthma or seasonal allergies. Instead, he took up ice skating and soon after learned to play ice hockey. He quickly excelled at skating and within a few years, he gave up other sports in favor of playing ice hockey exclusively.
Over the years, he learned to manage his food allergies and asthma with the support of his parents and the watchful eyes of his friends. His parents knew it was hard for him at times, but they let him know that others were worse off than he. They focused on the positive and did not allow Tom to feel sorry for himself.
Early on, his parents started by teaching him foods that he could and could not eat. One key point was a rule that many allergy parents try to teach their kids: When in doubt, go without. Tom said his parents told him that “You can never go wrong by avoiding a food when you are unsure about the ingredients.” And “They would always either send me to the party with my own (safe) foods or feed me before I left for the event.”
Later, Tom got by with a little help from his friends. He says that friends were “always my second set of eyes --always watching out for any of the things that I needed to avoid.” He said that good friends should also know “exactly what to do if you have a reaction.” Even today, teammates will look out for Tom and let him know if someone is eating something that could be dangerous for him.
In the past, Tom acknowledged that there are “those people who are going to criticize you or make fun of you” but that many others are “willing to help you and be concerned about it and help you along the way.” Again, the lesson here is to focus on the positive.
I asked Tom about past “contact reactions” because many people dismiss them. Tom explained that several of his serious reactions were contact reactions including his last one a few years ago when he used a lotion that, unknown to him, contained nut oil. He also recalls a contact reaction that came on very quickly, while he was away at college. Tom touched a doorknob that his roommate had accidently contaminated with traces of peanut butter after eating a sandwich.
Tom said that contact reactions “are very serious because you never know when they can occur no matter how careful you are.”
Those of us with food allergic children know that it is hard for them when they are excluded from celebrations. Not surprisingly, Tom said that the hardest part of growing up as a child with food allergies was “not being able to eat some of the goodies at parties and things and not getting to eat my Halloween candy.”
Although Tom acknowledges that it can be challenging at times he has put it into perspective in his own life. I asked him what he would like children with severe food allergies to know and he said: “Although its very hard and tough on you sometimes, don’t let it hold you back from doing anything because there are safe ways around everything!”
Tom volunteers as a spokesperson for FAAN to let kids know that having food allergies need not stop you from living the life of your dreams. It certainly hasn’t slowed Tom down!
And someday, if Tom has a child with food allergies, he said he would simply “educate him as much as possible and teach him to be ready for anything.” Maybe even the Olympics!
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