Feature Article: Local moms create support group for food allergy families

I’ve been busy at work for the last month establishing a new local food allergy support group and was excited to be contacted last week by one of our local reporters.  Below is the article that was written about why we started the group, our goals, and meeting logistics.

I have been putting many hours into get this off of the ground and I’m excited that our first meeting is happening tonight, just a little over a month since Denise (the other co-founder) and I met.   Thanks to Victoria and The Reporter for helping to spread the word on our group!

Local moms create support group for food allergy families

By VICTORIA WOLK, vwolk@thereporteronline.com

“Katie Pietrak noticed that something wasn’t right with her daughter, Penelope, when she was just a few months old. “She would have a lot of gas, and she was an awful sleeper,” Pietrak said. “People said, ‘Oh, she’s just a newborn.’”

Penelope wouldn’t be diagnosed with a dairy allergy until she was five months old. Now, at 14 months, Penelope has also been diagnosed with allergies to soy, eggs, peanuts and seaweed kiwi (KP), and she suffers from Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES), a type of allergy that affects the gastrointestinal tract.

When Pietrak first discovered her daughter’s food allergies, she began looking for local families going through the same thing. “I was trying to learn more,” she said, “and there was nothing in the area.”

Pietrak was able to connect through Facebook with Denise McSherry, who has a daughter with a long list of allergies. Four-year-old Abagail is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, soy, peas, all beans, corn, gluten, oats, beef and chicken. Like Penelope, Abagail suffers from FPIES, and she also has asthma and eczema, which are common in children with food allergies, McSherry said.

“Her food allergies are getting worse and worse,” McSherry said of her daughter. Although the rest of the family is allergy free, all of Abagail’s allergens have been removed from the house.

Now that Abagail’s in preschool, there’s a whole new set of challenges. “The problem is, many schools in the country still allow food – peanuts and tree nuts –in the classroom,” McSherry said. “Many also allow food for celebrations and rewards … You’re bringing something that is dangerous and potentially deadly to the classroom with children that can’t be around those items.”

Like Pietrak, McSherry has tried and failed to find groups in the area for families like hers. To fill that void, the two moms have created the Food Allergy Families of Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

“The goal is to connect adults together so they can learn from each other,” McSherry explained. “It’s to connect children so they can see that there are other people out there with food allergies and that they’re not alone. It’s an opportunity for them to build lifelong friendships with kids going through the same things they’re going through.”

The group will meet on the third Monday of the month at the Indian Valley Public Library, They’re working on lining up guest speakers for the next few months, including nutritionists, allergists and someone to speak about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects children with food allergies, Pietrak said.

Some of the topics that they’ll explore include how to safely eat at restaurants, how to read food labels and how to use substitutions in cooking. For example, Pietrak substituted applesauce for eggs in a cake recipe for Penelope’s first birthday.

The entire family is invited to the meetings, with activities planned for the kids so they can get to know each other. They’re also working on setting up play dates, which can be challenging for kids with food allergies, Pietrak said. “As they get a little older, if they want to go a friend’s house and there’s food out – they have to know what is safe and what isn’t.”

But McSherry has found that kids can be great self-advocates. “Even at 4 years old, if they come in contact with something, they have to tell the other person that they’re allergic,” she said. “They ask people, ‘Can you wipe that up before I sit down, please?’ They learn at an early age that they need to be careful.”

Those interested in learning more about the group can visit its website, foodallergyfamiliesofmontgomeryandbucks.com. Families are also invited to join the group’s private Facebook group, where they can connect and share advice.

The first meeting is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 16, at the Indian Valley Public Library, 100 E. Church Road, Telford.”

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