What I Wish You Knew: My Child Has A Life-Threatening Food Allergy

By Guest Blogger Heather Elise Duge

A few bites of a scrambled egg changed our lives forever.

About six years ago, I had just finished feeding our baby and put her down to play. The moments that followed are a blur. I remember my husband calling for me to come quickly. Our baby looked unrecognizable — hives all over and facial swelling to the point that her eyes had closed. I remember praying the whole way to the hospital, begging God to not let it get any worse. As we pulled in, her lips had swollen to double their size. She struggled to breathe. Epinephrine saved her life that day.

And just like that, we were thrown into a whole new world of life-threatening food allergies … a world that involves lots of learning and navigating as we go … a world where we live with the jarring reality that one wrong bite could be fatal.

Kids making dough

Before we left the hospital that day, the E.R. doctor diagnosed her with anaphylaxis, gave us an EpiPen prescription and warned us not to give her any new foods until testing. But I didn’t realize what I ate could affect her, too. After a few bites of trail mix one day, I kissed her on the cheeks, and every kiss left a hive. Testing revealed it’s not just egg. She also has severe allergies to peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, mustard and shrimp.

Fast forward a few years, and I was pregnant with our baby boy. He underwent testing at four-months old, and — to our surprise — no food allergies were revealed. I was so relieved. But we knew in the back of our minds that he was more likely to develop them. Nearly three years went by and still no allergies, until a few bites of a peanut butter pretzel at a friend’s house changed our lives again. He vomited.

My husband was at work, so the three of us jumped in the car and headed to the hospital, just in case. I knew the drill — if the reaction involves two bodily systems, grab the Epi. It quickly progressed to hives and swelling. My shaky hands dug into my purse for my daughter’s EpiPen as I swerved to the side of the road and reached back to inject it into his thigh. The next thing I knew we were in the E.R. with my swollen and pale toddler hearing the doctor repeat those familiar words, “You saved his life today. Don’t ever hesitate to use the EpiPen.

And just like that we had two children with life-threatening food allergies.

Jack learning epipen

Food Allergies Are On The Rise
Unless someone has a child with food allergies, I don’t expect them to know the ins and outs of it all. That’s why education and awareness are so important. That’s why I’m writing this article. One in 13 children has severe food allergies, and 75% of these cases occur in children with no prior family diagnosis. Each reaction can be different and range in severity, but those with food allergies must always be prepared.

Chances are you already go to a place (like our church) that ensures a nut-free environment. Chances are your child will probably know someone with food allergies and could save a life. It happened to my sister, who has sesame and tree nut allergies, when she reacted to unlabeled sesame flour in a restaurant’s tortilla wrap, and her college roommate knew how to use the EpiPen.


Cross-Contact Is Like Playing Russian Roulette
Reading food labels has become second nature to us (who knew Chewy SweeTARTS contain egg?). You may notice some foods labeled with “may contain peanuts” or “made on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and egg.” That equipment may or may not be cleaned thoroughly enough to avoid a rogue almond or sesame seed making its way into the wrong food. On top of that, each manufacturer can change its protocols at any time.

The U.S. has become better about labeling for the top eight allergens, but other foods — like sesame — can be tricky. Since sesame allergies are on the rise, legislation to include it in the top allergens has been passed in some states. Texas has yet to do that. Foods like crackers, cereals, bread and more may contain sesame and be labeled under “flavoring” or “spices,” as a teen’s father found out the hard way after watching his daughter collapse on a plane from eating a sandwich with unlabeled sesame in the dough.

Eating out and avoiding seven different allergens is hard, so we cook a lot. Thank goodness my husband has found he really enjoys cooking, and we all love the result. Our favorites so far are made-from-scratch pizza and donuts.

homemade donuts

Kids Are Learning To Be Their Own Advocates, But They’re Still Just Kids … 
A child with food allergies has big responsibilities. At age three, both of our children learned to recite their list of allergies. They know how to use their epinephrine auto-injectors. I’ve heard them describe their allergies to friends and why they can’t eat certain foods. They are both very aware and cautious, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still just kids and need support and guidance from others on this food allergy journey.

Kindness Truly Does Go A Long Way
I remember thinking I knew we had to find the good that could come out of this. After six years, I’ve come to realize that the silver lining is watching our children learn what empathy means, like when teachers prayed each morning for a reaction-free day and taught the students, by example, what it means to put others before yourself. Or when a staff member in the lunchroom went above and beyond to make sure lunchtime was safe and enjoyable for her. Or when a neighbor with a cake business helped me frost my daughter’s homemade birthday cake. Or when a friend’s pinata broke open at her birthday party, and my daughter could eat all the candy. Or when a boy in her class took it upon himself to be the “peanut police” every day at lunch. Or when that same boy’s mom wrote to me at the end of the year to tell me that eliminating allergens had made them more creative with food, and that she was grateful to find healthier alternatives. Or when our neighbor threw safe candy with a sweet note over our fence. Or when moms asked to bring safe cookies for their child’s birthday because they wanted my daughter to be included. Or when moms in charge of a special day at school made sure she could eat all the snacks. Or when a sixth grader planned an allergy-free treat section at our school’s pumpkin patch. To say our kids are grateful for these acts of kindness is an understatement. And in turn, they have learned to think of others before themselves, knowing how it feels when others sacrifice so they can be included.

Allergy-free treats at pumpkin patch

I Rely On God In A Whole New Way
I get the question from mom friends all the time, “How do you deal with knowing that one mix up could be tragic?” The short answer is Jesus. I’m on my knees in prayer much more than I was before this diagnosis. The reality that a lick of peanut butter or a sesame seed could take my child’s life forces me to rely on God in a totally different way.

We Never Leave Home Without Our EpiPens
We are told to always carry two EpiPens with us. Because there have been times when one is not enough. But sometimes even three is not enough, in the case of Natalie Giorgi who unknowingly ate peanuts in a Rice Krispies treat.

For the Debbs family, their son Oakley is the driving force behind a campaign, Red Sneakers For Oakley, to educate others that epinephrine — not an antihistamine — is the only medication that will treat anaphylaxis. Oakley had always been vigilant to avoid nuts and experienced only a few mild reactions before one Thanksgiving when he unknowingly grabbed a piece of cake containing nut extract. His parents were not prepared for what was to come.

In “Lessons from a Teen Food Allergy Tragedy,” Dr. Robert Wood, director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center said, “Epinephrine needs to be given promptly in the event of a reaction; the longer it’s delayed before being given, the greater chances that it won’t work.”

Sometimes food allergy parents may seem overprotective. But here’s the kicker. If we get it wrong, we don’t get to hit the reset button.


family beach pic

Heather Elise Duge is a freelance writer for pediatric hospitals in the DFW area. Before her first child was born, she was a writer for Children’s Health and story producer for a documentary, “Children’s Med Dallas.” Heather enjoys volunteering, teaching preschoolers at Sunday school and spending time with her husband and two children. 


Want to know what life is like for other moms? Read our “What I Wish You Knew” series:

What I Wish You Knew: I’m Raising A Black Son In America


What I Wish You Knew: Life For Refugee Mothers

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My Secret For Looking “Put Together”

I’m frequently told I look “put together,” and I’m fairly certain it’s not due to my fit physique (queso for life, y’all) or posh, designer style (shout out to Target). I’m convinced it’s because I always coordinate my earrings with my lipsticks.

It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing a black T-shirt, a ball gown or a brown bag, if my lipstick works with my earrings, my outfit looks complete. Here are some of my favorite Leigh Breunig Designs earrings paired with gorgeous (and safe!) BeautyCounter lipsticks and glosses. Which one is your favorite?

For the Cana shell earrings, I wanted to choose a lipstick color that wouldn’t overpower the delicate beauty of the shells. I went with a rosy-beige lipstick called Twig with an Opal gloss.


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Next up was my favorite look! I’m a sucker for a good red, and this one is the créme de la créme. Called Beautycounter Red, this statement color is available for purchase alone or as part of a trio (that, honestly, I’d buy for the packaging alone). The other two colors in the trio are a hot pink and a neutral pink. I left this red lip matte, and I think it pairs well with The Hills earrings because they are neutral, but bold. I put my hair back because nothing else needs to be talking in this conversation.


The hot pink lipstick in the Beautycounter trio mentioned earlier is called The Fuschia is Clean, and it deserves a pair of earrings that is just as fun! Enter the Blink earrings. They are hand painted, and no two pairs are the same. I’m obsessed with them because they remind me of a gorgeous work of abstract art. A high pony, a striking lip and a bright and colorful earring … I topped it off with Peony gloss and was out the door.


These Sunrise earrings lend themselves to a variety of lipstick shades, but I chose to play up the pink tones. I chose the Rose Sheer Lipstick with the Peony gloss. These would also be gorgeous with a coral or red/orange shade.


The Bea earrings are SO CUTE! I wanted a lipstick with a warm, apricot tone that would complement them. I chose Brunch with a Bare Shimmer gloss. (P.S. How great do they look with blue!?!)



Finally, these Mayflower earrings were such a beautiful color that I wanted to find an exact match in the lipstick. The third lipstick in the new trio is B. Fearless. It is described as a neutral pink, but I think it has more of a kick to it. I topped it with a Blush Shimmer gloss (peachy, pink) to give it even more dimension, and I really like the final result.

To purchase any of these fun lipstick colors and glosses, click here. See coordinating necklaces and bracelets here.

What are your tricks for looking put together? Tell me in the comments below.

Want to see more pretty things?

Just need a laugh? Try this.

Always Remember

Every year, our family enjoys spending Memorial Day at the Carry The Load Dallas Memorial March. This year looks a little different with a drive taking place of the march, but the end result is the same: bringing awareness to the real meaning of Memorial Day Weekend.

Barbecues, swimming and spending time with loved ones this weekend are beautiful ways to celebrate how fortunate we are to have the lives we have, but we wouldn’t have these lives or freedoms without the men and women who sacrificed theirs. We hear that word “sacrifice” so frequently that we can become desensitized to its actual meaning.

It means never seeing your baby’s first steps, never taking that dream vacation, never seeing another sunset, never hugging your mom again. I want my boys to understand this and feel the gratitude deep in their bones.

We are a patriotic family, and that will never change. I am proud of this country, and I am honored to be an American. I will always remember.

An Easter Note

I painted today for the first time in a long time. I don’t consider myself an artist by any means, but I really enjoy it. I find painting — and watercolor in particular — to be very therapeutic the way the water moves the color across the page. It’s a beautiful and hypnotizing dance, and I can’t resist it.

Something has been bugging me today, and I’ve tried very hard to identify it to no avail. It’s been a lovely day, one filled with good times with my boys that will make for cherished memories. I’m content. I’m fulfilled. I’m ever so grateful, but I’m having a hard time smiling. Today there is a fog.

So, I turned to paint to cheer myself up and release whatever had its chokehold on me. It’s spring, so what is more apropos than painting tulips … or cheerier than red and pink ones? But my hand kept reaching for the black, and even then was not satisfied. It wasn’t until I had completely abandoned the piece and blurred it with water that it felt finished. As I stood back and looked at it—joyful and vibrant tulips hidden beneath a fog—I knew that it was perfect. It was timely. It was exactly as I felt.

We are all living the best lives we can under the current circumstances, but no matter how hard we persevere—and persevere, we must—we cannot lift the fog. The sickness, the sadness, the anxiety … it’s with us through it all. We put on brave faces for our children, and we work tirelessly to make these days meaningful. We protect them from the news, from the fear, from the death, and we smile and play while the fog does its best to drown us.

This is Easter weekend, and as a Christian I take comfort in my Savior. He is my light through the haze and my courage through this pandemic. If you also find yourself with lips that are smiling but a heart that is hurting, please know that you are not alone in your feelings. We will look upon the tulips again, and the fog will be lifted. Until then … Happy Easter, my friends.



Why I Write

This all began out of fear. I didn’t realize fear was the issue at the time, and I’d many times attributed my discontent to other things, but it was fear that led me here. You’ve oftentimes heard musicians and composers say that they chose a life of music because they couldn’t not write music. That same sentiment is what finally stung my core and caused me to start this page. I can’t not write anymore. However terrifying exposing my inner thoughts to the world may be, expressing them in written form is who I am. So here we are.

I was working my way through Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” when I stumbled upon this clarity. I started writing my morning page with no intention of it holding any meaning at all. To me it was nothing more meaningful than the writing in an adolescent’s diary … until it was transformed. Somewhere along the way, my writing became inspired, and its words held within them the answer to my most pressing question:

Am I supposed to create? Was it my Creator’s intention for me to write?

Here’s what poured out of me and into that journal on this day:

“For the love of God, I can’t get a minute’s rest. Someone has always left the water running, needs to be fed, or is mid-fight. It’s a miracle I’m still sane. What was God thinking giving me three sons? I must have been some kind of brat to require this much humbling. Or is this supposed to be my artistic material?

My hand hurts. How did I used to do hours upon hours of cursive writing in school? I often think about what I would do differently if I could go back. Would I read more and socialize less? Would I choose a different university? Travel? Move? Would I now be a writer living in Brooklyn … or, perhaps, a book editor?

It’s funny how when I think what I want out of this life, it never involves wanting money. However, I find myself often consumed by wanting more and feeling like I need more. Maybe my choice to not live a creative life has made me feel like I need the bigger house or nicer things as the consolation prize for the sacrifice of my true self. This is, of course, ridiculous but also shows me that I’m searching for a richness of life, a creative life. If I had the bigger house and nicer things, I would still be searching.

It’s creativity, expression, and depth that I crave. It’s the desire to feel awake and alive! I want to live creatively, nurture meaningful friendships, develop an intimate relationship with God’s creation, and experience a deeper faith. I want to be fully engaged in this life from the tips of my toes to the top of my crown.

I first have to disengage from this manufactured world and disconnect the disingenuous channels of my mind telling me what will make me happy. Should I continue down their chosen path for me, I will do nothing but tire my soul and squander my days. But should I diverge, I will once again recognize my reflection and walk along a path shrouded in glorious mystery that connects me to my Creator.

What could keep me from taking this path? Fear? Staying the course is far more frightening. Comfort? Even in the most familiar, the hollow core remains. I’ve filled it with food. I’ve chased money. I’ve tried to ignore its festering. But in the end, it is left unchanged, still waiting patiently to be filled by a leap of faith.”