A few years ago, “Modern Family” star Julie Bowen rushed her son Oliver, 6, to the ER for a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to peanut butter and a bee sting. A dose of epinephrine saved his life. Since then, she has teamed up with Mylan Specialty to raise awareness about anaphylaxis, so the families of the estimated one in 13 U.S. children diagnosed with food allergies do not have to go through the same terrifying emergency her family did.
When Mylan Specialty approached Julie, also mom to twins John and Gustav, 4, she thought their partnership would be a good fit.
“I was pretty vocal about the fact that my kid had a reaction eating peanut butter while being stung by a bee,” Julie says. “My oldest’s reaction ended in an emergency room. It was a very obvious choice to speak out and talk about how it doesn’t have to rule your life. I am not about fear. My kids swim; they are outside; they go to school, birthday parties.”
On Dec. 18, the Emmy-award winning actress and Mylan Specialty announced the winners of their Raise Your Hand for Anaphylaxis Awareness competition, which is part of the larger Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis initiative. The competition encourages local communities to educate others in the school environment to recognize life-threatening allergic reactions and to be prepared to respond if anaphylaxis occurs. The winning school districts joined more than 830 others across all 50 states in rallying their communities to virtually “raise their hands” to be counted as those committed to anaphylaxis awareness.
Four schools were chosen to win $15,000 educational grants:
- Cheektowaga-Sloan Union Free School District in Cheektowaga, N.Y.; 38,385 hands raised
- Oxford Township School District in Oxford, N.J.; 28,571 hands raised
- Utica Community Schools in Sterling Heights, Mich.; 24,643 hands raised
- Ossining Union Free School District in Ossining, N.Y.; 12,521 hands raised
The school districts are encouraged to use the grants to fund programs about life-threatening allergies, such as training for school staff, bringing in speakers to educate students, purchasing anaphylaxis-related books, installing hand-washing stations and teaching students why they help avoid exposure to allergic triggers, and implementing an anaphylaxis spirit week.
The competition generated nearly 150,000 raised hands during the four-month program. Julie was pleased with the results.
“I find it delightful. It is like when I won an Emmy. I was sure it was an accounting error. That’s my own insecurity. But it’s not an accounting error. More people are talking; more people will know; less children will die,” Julie says. “It was exciting how many people logged on. It made me aware how many people are affected by this.”
Now that the Raise Your Hand campaign is over, Julie encourages families to visit www.Anaphylaxis101.com to check out the numerous resources the site provides, such as the free ebook available for download that she narrates called The Adventures of Ana and Phyl: The Carnival, which follows brother and sister, Ana and Phyl Axis, as they work with others to plan an allergy-friendly event at their school. And Julie says her son is a fan of the Supermarket Search, an educational video game designed to help kids understand the importance of checking ingredient lists.
“Helping your child feel empowered about it is, for us, the most important thing,” Julie says. “For kids, it can be scary that some foods could hurt you. Teach them to not be afraid. The grocery game on the site helps. My son is fine going up to a waiter to ask if something has nuts in it. It’s giving him the power to check himself.”
Julie says one of the most important tips she learned on the site is to always check packages, even on foods she buys regularly. Companies may change their packaging or ingredients without notifying consumers.
“We’re so accustomed to asking questions. It’s hard to imagine not asking them. He’s 6, and now he can read labels. We taught him what words to look for. When he tries new things, he reads labels. It’s a 45-second difference at grocery store,” she says.
Julie says her son’s day-to-day life is quite normal and he doesn’t know anything different because it’s what he has always known.
“He sits at a nut-free table at school. So many kids are affected. I think enough people are affected that there isn’t a stigma, like the boy in the bubble over there. Most parents know not to have carrot cake with nuts in it, but parents still need to check,” she says.
Julie says the holiday season can be difficult because catered parties offer treats at the kids’ level that don’t come with an ingredient list.
“At parties you don’t know what’s in the food, so bring snacks along,” she says. “They can still have the disgusting sugary food, but bring your own along so you don’t have to be mean and not let them have anything.”
Several tools are available at www.Anaphylaxis101.com that can help families navigate allergy risks outside of their homes. The tools include tip sheets, travel-sized cards with advice on how to read food labels, food substitution suggestions, allergy-friendly recipes and grocery shopping tips.
Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis, Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis Challenge and the Raise Your Hand for Anaphylaxis Awareness campaigns are sponsored by and trademarks of Mylan Specialty L.P.