Dr. Abigail Glick’s world changed two years ago when her then 18-month-old son began violently vomiting and lost consciousness after ingesting a cashew crumb. At age 3, her son now faces severe allergies to eggs, milk and tree nuts.
In an effort to fill the void of support for families of children with food allergies in the area, Glick created the newly launched Northeast Ohio Food Allergy Network this spring.
“There was nowhere to turn after my son’s diagnosis,” said Glick, who lives in Lyndhurst and attends The Temple Tifereth-Israel in Beachwood.
The mission of NEOFAN is to minimize the impact of food allergies in families’ lives through support, education, research and advocacy. To form the network, Glick put together an executive committee made up of a pediatric allergist, nutritionist, psychologist, teacher, emergency department nurse, and leaders of community organizations.
“So many families are impacted by food allergies and want a place to go for support,” said Glick.
Fifteen million Americans have food allergies, and one in 13 children have them, sometimes resulting in life-threatening reactions, she explained.
Glick, who specializes in pediatric endocrinology at University Hospitals in Cleveland, said part of her job is to connect families of children diagnosed with diabetes with nutritionists and psychologists, and she wanted to provide the same services for children with food allergies. She also has a 1-year old son with a less severe peanut allergy.
Members of the community have responded positively to the network, said Glick.
“Many of them ask, ‘Where was this 10 years ago when my child was diagnosed?’” she said.
Glick has been meeting with leaders from the Jewish community at Jewish day schools and camps to discuss providing help for children with food allergies in these settings.
“I would love to send my child to a Jewish camp, but right now I have concerns,” she said.
Besides families with food allergies, the network has partnered with local chefs, teachers and Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.
“They’re very supportive and appreciative, because now they have a place to send their patients,” said Glick.
Glick plans to connect newly diagnosed food allergy families with more experienced families through the network. She also aims to bring more science research and clinical trials to the area and roll out education programs that extend to schools, sports venues and restaurants so that places learn to be more accommodating to children with food allergies.
Glick recounted a recent trip to a local amusement park where she experienced difficulty: “We tried to bring in our son’s food, and we were told we had to leave and feed him either before or after we came to the park.”
She’d also like to extend education to local emergency medical services.
“Right now ambulances don’t have to have EpiPens (a medical device that injects epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis) and don’t have to be trained to administer EpiPens,” said Glick.
Glick said though NEOFAN is still in its early stages, she has new families coming her way each day. The network will host its kickoff event, a picnic in the park at Case Western Reserve University Squire Valleevue and Valley Ridge Farms in Hunting Valley, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 31. Along with arts, crafts and games, NEOFAN will provide attendees with the top eight allergen-free treats, and families are encouraged to bring their favorite picnic foods, with one stipulation – no nuts.
North East Ohio Food Allergy Network Picnic
WHAT: The Northeast Ohio Food Allergy Network’s kickoff event, Family Picnic in the Park
WHERE: Case Western Reserve University Squire Valleevue and Valley Ridge Farms, Shelter #3 (November Meeting Center in case of rain), 37125 Fairmount Blvd., Hunting Valley
WHEN: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 31