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Allergic Living Interview with Sports Owner, Hollywood Producer

(Excerpted with permission of Allergic Living Magazine)

From hanging out with movie stars to schmoozing with international royalty, Ted Leonsis enjoys a pretty glamorous lifestyle. Still, days spent on planes, film sets, galas and sports arenas present a special challenge for the Internet executive turned sport-team owner and filmmaker. That’s because Leonsis lives with life-threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, not to mention environmental allergies and asthma. Leonsis, who’s best known for owning the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards, spoke to Allergic Living’s managing editor Kim Shiffman and revealed a lot about balancing an on-the-go lifestyle with his severe allergies.

Among the highlights was this answer to the question, “What’s the worst allergic reaction you’ve ever had?”:

[I]n 2006, I was producing a movie – Woody Harrelson was in it and a bunch of other movie stars. We were on a studio lot in L.A. and it was late at night, maybe 10:30 p.m. Because it had been such a successful shoot, the crew ordered chicken-salad sandwiches from some famous L.A. restaurant. This is what they always did to celebrate.

The sandwiches came, and I took one. After a couple of bites, I noticed something crunchy. It was cashews. Immediately I started to get hives on my hands, then my ears, then my tongue. And I thought, “Here it comes.”

I carry EpiPens in my briefcase and my travel bag and keep them all over the house and the cars, but I didn’t have one on the movie set. No matter how vigilant you are, you still have the occasional “whoops.” But I got lucky. My family had visited the shoot earlier in the day, and my son also has allergies, so my wife had brought this little bag for him with an EpiPen and some Benadryl. They had already left, but the bag had stayed behind by chance.

I grabbed the bag, left the set and went to the bathroom, which was about a quarter of a mile away from the studio lot. It was almost like an outhouse. I go in to the bathroom, pull my pants down and jab the EpiPen in my leg. All I could think was: “They’re going to find me dead in this bathroom.” But I was fine. I took some Benadryl, too.

Our own Dr. Paul Ehrlich was asked by reporter Kim Shiffman to “grade” Ted Leonsis’s allergy approach. Here is what he said:

Top marks: “It’s great that a man of Mr. Leonsis’s stature is speaking out about his allergies. He is very aware of the issues around food allergy. The best message he sends is that you don’t have to live in a bubble.”

Caution ahead: “Mr. Leonsis is prepared. He should remember, however, to always ask about what’s in every food he doesn’t make himself. Nuts in the chicken salad may not be obvious, but you can’t be too careful.”

Medication use: “To his credit, he was not afraid to use an EpiPen when he needed it. I just wish he had used the auto-injector immediately instead of waiting until he found a private spot. It’s really important to remember that if you decide you need your EpiPen, use it right away, and always let someone else know what’s going on, because you might suddenly need assistance.”
Note: This article appears in the Fall 2011 edition of Allergic Living magazine.

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