By Abby Himburg
Henry County parents Caleb and Freda Bristow were heartbroken, yet determined, after finding their youngest son Sam, suffered from a peanut allergy. For many parents this diagnosis can be frustrating and inconvenient, but for the Bristow family it was problematic.
Caleb grew up on a peanut farm, manages a peanut buying point and sells peanut trailers. Peanuts are an essential part of his everyday life.
“I even had people joke with me and say ‘oh wouldn’t it be funny if your kid had a peanut allergy,’” Caleb said.
About a year ago, when Sam was around 6 months old, Caleb and Freda started introducing Sam to peanut products. He had a few minor reactions, but Caleb wasn’t convinced his child could be allergic to peanuts. Having already been diagnosed with some food allergies, and after a trip to a pediatric allergist, the Bristows nightmare was confirmed.
“I literally work for peanuts and now I have a kid who is allergic to peanuts,” Caleb recalled.
Fortunately the Bristows knew that living with the allergy wasn’t the only option. Caleb, the former executive director of the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, knew a doctor in Birmingham who worked on a groundbreaking treatment to lessen the peanut allergy response in some patients.
Dr. Joseph LaRussa is an allergy and immunology specialist in Birmingham. With 22 years of pediatric allergy experience and having a child with peanut and tree nut allergies, LaRussa knows what it’s like to deal with food allergies.
In 2015, a group of researchers from London and the U.S. released a groundbreaking study now known as the Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study. The study found the introduction of peanuts into an infant’s diet, prior to 11-months old, reduced the prevalence of peanut allergies by approximately 70-80 % (peanutallergyfacts.org). That motivated LaRussa to conduct further research on how to help patients with peanut allergy.
LaRussa discovered children with a peanut allergy can be desensitized to the legume. He developed a treatment plan consisting of digesting peanut butter in small dosages until the body becomes immune to peanut products. The dosage is based off tests performed by LaRussa.
Freda remembers an emotional moment during their first appointment. LaRussa said, “We want to dictate food allergies, not food allergies dictate the way we live.”
“I almost cried… that was just like a sigh of relief.,” Freda said. “We can help Sam with this, so he doesn’t have to live in fear.”
Sam is far enough along in his treatments the Bristow family no longer has to worry about having peanut products in the house.
“After 16 weeks, we have finally worked our way up to half a teaspoon of peanut butter,” said Caleb. “By springtime, Sam should be able to enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
While this immunotherapy is not FDA approved, it has proven to be a safe and viable option for children and adults trying to overcome peanut allergies. For more information, contact Dr. LaRussa’s office at (205) 933-5599.
For more information on how to safely introduce peanuts to your infant to help prevent peanut allergies, visit PreventPeanutAllergies.org.
Alabama peanut farmers care deeply about their product and the consumers who are affected by it. Since 2001, through the National Peanut Board, and peanut farmers across the nation have earmarked more than $32 million of their own dollars into research and education about food and peanut allergies.
The information presented in this article is for educational purposes only. The information is not intended to be a substitute for professional treatment and advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.