I am breathing deeper than I have since June 10, 2005 – the day my 19-month-old was diagnosed with a peanut allergy.
The reason: We learned Thursday morning Maria has outgrown it. She has defied odds and landed in the 1 out of 5 group who outgrows peanut allergies, a condition that ranges from the inconvenient to the fatal. And, one that while affecting more and more children each year, continues to be misunderstood.
We are, as you can imagine, stunned. At least I am. My husband claims he was sure she'd outgrow it. Maria believed too.
We are all grateful.
Last Thursday, Maria went for what is called an Oral Food Challenge Test. That means she had to eat the very substance she was trained to avoid at all costs. A food she was taught could make her itchy or ill, or could kill her. Yes, when she sneaked a bite of cake she wasn't supposed to eat, I had to tell the 4-year-old she could die from eating the wrong food. Not a great moment, but a necessary one.
I carried the double-bagged peanut butter jar into the allergist's office as if it were a bio-hazard. She got a skin scratch test and it was negative. (She had registered a 2 originally, which is low reaction and last year a blood test showed no allergen.) Given that good news, we moved forward with eating the peanut butter to check for reactions. The doctor told Maria he would give her the equivalent of a peanut on a flavored tongue depressor. She picked cherry. He told her we would wait 45-minutes to see if she got itchy or if she got hives. He didn't mention the possibility of anaphylaxis. He told her not to be afraid. She would be safe and taken care of if she got sick. My blood pressure dropped. She opened her mouth like a baby bird and made faces as she swallowed the sticky nut butter. She told the doctor she liked sunflower butter better.
We sat in the playroom and watched "Fantasia'' -- the original, freaky Disney one. She got a funny bump on her lip. My heart sank. There was no other reaction though, so we went ahead and she ate a second larger bite and after no reaction she ate two huge teaspoonfuls. No reaction.
"She has outgrown it,'' the doctor finally announced. "Maria, you're not allergic to peanuts anymore.''
"Yay! I'm not allergic to peanuts anymore!'' she said, bouncing.
"What do we do now? Just go on and have a nice life, no worries about food?'' I asked.
"Yes, you do,'' the doctor said, smiling. "But keep your Epi pen if it makes you feel better.''
It is a head trip to go from seeing food as a potential enemy to walking into a restaurant (which we did for lunch right afterwards) and not asking whether they cook with peanut oils. What freedom. What a weight has been lifted.
In the days since the good news, my child has attended a birthday party and eaten the store-bought cake, she has licked her fingers after eating a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and she has picked out and eaten a sprinkle-covered cookie in the bakery display – all things we were not sure she'd ever get to do. (I obnoxiously video-taped her beaming face in the bakery. And yes, I had the Epi.)
Also on an upcoming menu will be fish and tree nuts – foods she's never eaten. And on Friday, Maria will go trick-or-treating in the princess gown her aunt made. At nearly 5, it is the first time she will participate in this ritual of fun and sugar highs.
Me, I have said my sincere thank yous to friends who supported us every step of the way, to the teachers who have taken such good care of her, to the kind doctor with smart advice, and to the Power that made this possible for her.
And, we move on to become ambassadors for the more than 12 million American children and adults living with food allergies.
Here's to hope.