Faced with what to do about handling a critical medical need for Samuel, her youngest son, Robin Davison of Merion set to task to make the situation a bit easier. She emerged as a heroic "Jewish Mother of Invention" by creating AllergiK ID, a line of innovative products related specifically to children's food allergies.
Now Sam, who is 31/2 but was just 11 months old when he had his first allergic reaction to peanuts, is identified much more easily as a child allergic to certain foods, and as word spreads about Davison's products, other susceptible children and concerned parents began benefiting as well.
"My two other children, Derek, 51/2, and my daughter Shaine, who is 21/2, were tested, and are free of food allergies," said Davison.
However, Shaine has the gene for celiac disease -- an intolerance to gluten, found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats. Robin's husband, Josh, 35, has the gene, and her youngest sister, Jennifer Levison, 30, who lives in Manhattan, has the disease.
When Sam was 2, she said, he attended nursery school about twice a week, and despite telling teachers there about his condition, allergic mishaps occurred for months.
"I don't blame them," said this mother, "because it's tough to remember always."
That is when Davison, who decided to begin a thorough search for anything that would outwardly alert others to his food allergy, said she found nothing on the market that was "age-appropriate" -- that identified children with food allergies readily and rapidly. So Davison got to work designing a line of items for children that indicate very clearly a child's risk to certain items.
Seeking Some Help
About 12 million Americans -- 25 percent children -- suffer from food allergies, with more diagnosed each year, she noted, while there are at least 30,000 emergency-room visits in the United States annually because of such allergies, with between 150 and 200 deaths each year. One in 17 children under the age of 4 is allergic to at least one food, while 8 percent of all children have food allergies, reported Davison.
The eight most common -- responsible for 90 percent of all food allergies -- are peanut, tree nuts, egg, dairy, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish, she noted.
Peanut allergies, which aren't likely to be outgrown, doubled in the period from 1997 to 2002, so that today, peanuts are responsible for half of all reactions, explained Davison. Why this is so isn't clear conclusively yet, she added, but theories point to environmental changes, food-processing additives, and, of course, plain old genetics.
Said Davison: "I began looking for allergy-specific products soon after my son's diagnosis in the fall of 2004, around the time my third child was born. It took about a year of research, including talking with other parents about food allergies, before I realized that the kinds of products for which I was looking did not exist.
"Products hit the market in September 2006, when the Web site (www.allergikid.com ) was launched," some seven months after the company became incorporated. "That's when I began designing the product line that is basically for children up to 7 and 8 years old," said Davison, who, in her 20s, was diagnosed with a pineapple allergy.
A New Product Line
Now, a bit more than one year later, AllergiK ID is one in a line of 11 products that includes backpacks, bracelets, cups, lunch bags, posters and stickers.
"Products are distinguished by their bright-red color, the logo and the allergy alert that's specific to each child. Lunch bags, backpacks and posters are customized to list each child's specific allergies, whatever the allergies may be. We have made a number of these items that list up to 10 allergies," explained Davison.
Sam, she acknowledged, "uses it all," and has a travel pack and emergency card that goes wherever he goes; there are safe-snack boxes and posters for him in both his morning and afternoon classrooms, said his mother.
"Most parents never give a second thought to sending their child to daycare, school, restaurants or to play at a friend's house. But when you're a parent who has a child with food allergies, all of these routine activities become risks. And it can be tough for daycare workers, other parents, teachers and just about anyone to keep track of what child is allergic to what," she said.
"The intent was to help parents to identify their kids in a way that would keep them safe in every environment -- and to make something cool enough so that kids would want to use them. We're getting incredibly good feedback from parents, and also from places where kids spend a lot of time, such as schools and daycare centers," commented Davison, who has a master's degree in public health from Columbia University and a law degree from Benjamin Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University.
"It's very difficult to have zero exposure," she stressed, "to have 100 percent separation from foods that cause allergic reactions that can happen anywhere from two to four hours after exposure, so it's vitally important to have kids tested by an allergist."
She also stressed that because any exposure can be very serious, it's necessary to carry an antidote at all times, one prescribed by a doctor.
For more information about food allergies, call Kids With Food Allergies, at 215-230-5394.