Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Living With Allergies & Asthma

by Nick Pothier, age 12, Picton, ON

My name is Nick Pothier. I am 12 years old and I have anaphylactic allergies to tree nuts and peanuts.When I was 2½ years old, I had some of my dad's cashews and had my first anaphylactic reaction. My mom said when I got to the hospital I was hardly breathing and covered in hives.

Before I started school things went well and only safe foods were allowed in my house. When I started school, my parents were nervous. We went into the school about a week before and talked to my teacher about my allergies. My teacher seemed to understand and notes were sent home with all the other kids on the first day. We did this every year and things went pretty well for me. Occasionally, someone would bring a peanut butter sandwich to school but would be sent to the office to eat it. As I moved into the higher grades however, the long notes that were sent home on the first day seemed to get smaller and in grade 6 the kids were reminded about my allergy and asked to "bear this in mind" when bringing their lunches.

In grade 6 it seemed that everyday somebody brought in a peanut butter sandwich or a nutty snack. Once walnut cookies were given to my class as a treat and I had to wait in the hall! As this behaviour continued, the children who brought nuts had to eat in the hall, but they still brought nuts. I was confused and wondered, "Why are children bringing in peanut and nuts to school, even though they know I'm allergic to them?"

At the end of the school year, I decided to do a study exploring how often peanuts and nuts were brought into school and how much my class really knows about anaphylaxis. My hypothesis was that the kids don't understand why they should change their lunch and snacks for my allergy because they don't know what anaphylaxis really is.

I designed my study based on several variables. I wondered how the students received their information. Did they receive it from their teacher, principal, parents or friends? How do they get the food for their lunches? Do they pack it themselves or do their parents pack it for them? I needed to find out who I needed to teach!

My questionnaire was done on the very last day of school. I found out that 67% of my class brought in peanut butter sandwiches at least once this year! As well 52% brought in foods containing nuts with 10% bringing them in one or more times a week! Also, 76% of my class didn't know what anaphylaxis was! I also found that I needed to work not only on the student, but on my teacher, the parents and my principal as well. From my study results, I decided my class needed to learn two things: How to pack a healthy peanut/nut free lunch (67% packed their own lunch), and how severe anaphylaxis really is. Plus, I also saw an opportunity for the principal and teachers to help in this effort as the students identified their existing source of knowledge about these allergies as being their parents, doctor, and friends.

Over the summer, before grade 7, I designed a couple of teaching packages. I needed information so I e-mailed Monika Gibson from the AAIA for help. She was very helpful and supportive of my project, providing me with a new CD-rom and pamphlets. The first package I designed was on peanut/nut free foods and the second on anaphylaxis.

A week before school started, Mom and I met with my principal and teacher to discuss my problem and teaching plans. They were agreeable that I may teach package 1 on the first day of school and package 2 as a health lesson at the end of September. We provided the information that Monika Gibson sent from the AAIA to my principal to teach the teachers about anaphylaxis. I also lent my EpiPen trainer to the school so the teachers could practice.

In my peanut/nut free teaching package, I made a board game to help teach my class some common foods that are safe and some that are not. I also made a pamphlet that gives healthy peanut/nut free lunch and snack ideas. I made a "peanut/nut free food pyramid" display and put up "peanut/nut free" signs on my classroom door. I wrote a contract with my principal's help and approval, that my teacher, each student and their parent(s), had to sign stating that they would not bring in peanuts or nuts to the classroom.

My anaphylactic teaching package used different ways to explain what anaphylaxis is. I made another game with true and false anaphylactic questions. I made an anaphylactic signs and symptoms poster for my classroom. I showed my class a short DVD (Taking Control), and handed out an Anaphylaxis pamphlet (both by AAIA). I also did an EpiPen demonstration into a plastic bottle and let my class use my EpiPen trainer to practice. My mom came and told my class about my reaction and then we had an open discussion and questions. My principal, teacher and educational assistant were all present.

Both of my presentations went well. It seems my class didn't realize how severe "anaphylaxis" really was. My plan is to re-test my class in December with the same questionnaire I gave them last year. I also want to test another class in my school to see if the information that was given to the principal and other teachers has passed on to other students. I plan on using this study for my 2006 science fair project. If my teaching methods prove to be successful, maybe they could be used once Sabrina's Law comes into effect Jan 2006, and possibly help save a life.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 4 2005

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