Parents of Allergic Kids Charlotte: Support, networking, understanding

 

By Lisa Moore

Parenting is hard work, but raising a child with food allergies can present day-to-day challenges that can be overwhelming. Food allergy occurs in approximately 6 to 8 percent of children under the age of 4. From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of reported food allergy increased 18% among children under age 18 years, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Allergic reactions range from mild: rashes, itching, swelling and digestive upset to severe: trouble breathing, wheezing or loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, anaphylactic shock or death may even occur.

Food allergies can complicate the simplest childhood activities — from eating and attending school to birthday parties and sleepovers. Between chauffeuring kids to doctor visits, researching treatment, making plans around their allergies and creating an allergy-proof home, parents can become very burned out.

Parents of Allergic Kids (PAK) Charlotte provides a supportive environment for parents of and the children who have serious food allergies. The group raises awareness and educates parents, caregivers, professionals and children’s peers about safely caring for those with food allergies.

Formed in April 2006 by parents of children with food allergies, PAK is a free support group with a network of over 300 families in the Charlotte area. Dr. Maeve O’Connor and Dr. Gray Norris, Board-Certified Allergists from Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center, serve as medical advisers. Meetings, guest speakers and special events offer support and fun. The PAK message board helps parents communicate about allergy challenges and to coordinate meet ups.

Because society is undereducated on the hardships of allergies, parents often have to be an advocate for their children. Teresa LeBlanc, who has a young son with allergies, says PAK has assisted her in many ways. “I network with people that can relate, offer advice, an ear and help me feel that I am too nice sometimes when it comes to protecting my son,” she says. “In some cases it reinforces my actions by seeing or hearing what ‘over the top’ behavior results in.”

Blanc also says that PAK has helped her to become more educated on her rights for her son in the school system and challenges he may face when he gets older.

With 90% of all food-allergy reactions stemming from eight popular foods – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat – cooking for a child with food allergies requires extensive planning and creativity.  Members learn about new foods and recipes from others that have similar food allergies. “It is through PAK that I learned many new foods to feed my son,” states LeBlanc.

Parents of Allergic Kids are welcome to take part in upcoming events. On August 16th, PAK will sponsor its 4th Annual Food Free Zone at the Charlotte Knights Baseball game, welcoming all food-allergic families. The 4th Annual Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network Carolinas Walk for Food Allergy: Moving Toward a Cure will take place at Freedom Park on September 20th. Funds raised will go towards food allergy research and education. The next PAK meeting will be on September 25th at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne.

For more information, visit www.pakcharlotte.org.

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