Imagine having to carefully check your food before it you eat it, worrying if a snack could cost you your life.
That’s the reality for many people with food allergies.
There’s a promising treatment that could lessen some of those life-threatening reactions, and families here in Hawaii are going to great lengths to try it.
Tasked with delivering a project about something near and dear to their hearts, two 5th-graders at Hahaione Elementary chose to tackle an issue that has many families living in fear.
Melania Ali Heron is allergic to peanuts. “I really wanted to find out what they’re doing to make the world better for us, to make it easier for us to be able to go to restaurants without having to be scared,” she said.
“I have food allergies and I almost died three times from anaphylaxis,” said Dillon Delmonico. “I will get hives and sometimes I couldn’t breathe.”
“Literally every single day I’d call my husband and he’s like, ‘He’ll be okay,’ and I’m like, I don’t know, because literally every single bite of food could take him from me in an instant, and it’s such a horrifying life,” said Dillon’s mother, Amber Delmonico.
They turned to an allergist based in Utah for some relief. Dr. Douglas Jones treats children from all over the country, including Dillon, with something called oral immunotherapy (OIT).
“We’re starting off with a microscopic amount of the protein that the person is allergic to, and in a very calculated, methodical manner, we’re slowly increasing that dose, building that person’s tolerance, desensitizing them to where we’re reconfiguring their immune system in a beneficial way,” he explained.
Jones says he’s treated more than 400 patients using this program with an almost-perfect success rate.
“So first, there’s a little bit of the allergen in a liquid and you eat that, and every week, you up the dose and then you go on to powder, and then you can eat whatever it is that you’re doing it for,” Dillon said.
Today, Dillon eats 10 peanuts a day.
“I don’t get scared. I’m very grateful,” Amber Delmonico said. “Every morning, I watch him take his dose and every day I sit there and go, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s eating what potentially could’ve killed him.’ The process was hard, every day knowing that I was giving that to him, and not knowing what was going to happen.”
Evan Russo also underwent OIT. His family chose to see a doctor in San Francisco.
Evan admits it was scary at first: “At first, yeah, a little bit, but then it kind of got normal.”
“It’s just miraculous to see at the end, they’re eating many peanuts, five, six, eight peanuts, and nothing’s happening,” said Evan’s mother, Stella Berg. “We immediately went out to dinner into a gelato shop and started celebrating with Kit Kats and Milky Ways, and all kinds of things he’s never had before.”
It’s miraculous for these families, but not widely embraced by the medical community.
We spoke to a leading allergist on Oahu who says parents who consider this type of therapy should be extremely cautious because if not done properly, it could be deadly.
For these Hawaii moms, OIT has proven to be a life-changing experience.
“If you want to be free from this fear, from this worry, start thinking about it, start researching it, and your path will come to you,” said Berg.
“I didn’t care how much it cost at the end of the day,” said Delmonico, “because his life is worth more than anything.”