By Susan Weissman
The food-allergy headline of the week is, of course, that in the process of signing H.R. 2094, aka the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which passed both houses of Congress with support from both political parties, President Barack Obama announced that his daughter Malia herself was allergic to peanuts. Allergies have been an issue in this first family from the beginning, especially in the choice of dog.* Now that we know Malia is peanut allergic, I would love to ask Michelle Obama (sorry, Mr. President, but we all know that MOM is the authority on food allergies) a number of questions:
1. When did you first realize that Malia might be allergic to peanuts?
2. Were you afraid?
3. What was the first thing you did after Malia’s diagnosis?
4. Does she carry her own auto-injector (or does the Secret Service carry it)?
5. How do you keep her safe when she is a guest or attending an event with food?
6. Have Malia’s allergies motivated your childhood nutrition initiatives?
7. Does Sidwell Friends School have an allergen-free classroom policy, a separate table for allergic students, or other special provisions?
Mrs. Obama, I respect your daughter’s medical privacy as I would my own son’s. But as a former schoolteacher I see an incredibly valuable “teachable moment” here. This is a public health issue that remains widely misunderstood. I hope you will seize this opportunity to provide insight and clarity.
*Portuguese water dogs, the breed chosen at the suggestion of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, are supposed to be hypoallergenic, although my allergist writes in his book Asthma Allergies Children: a parent’s guide (pp. 212-213), that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog.
Susan Weissman is the author of FEEDING EDEN the Trials and Triumphs of a Food Allergy Family , a memoir published by Sterling. Susan was a middle-school English teacher before turning to writing full-time. She writes for The Huffington Post, Allergic Living, and various sites on the topic of allergies and parenting. Find resources for parents and children with allergies on her own blog by clicking here. You can also read her previous posts for us here and here.