How it begin
Food for Thought
Food allergies don’t stop Carey Poindexter’s appetite for life. For most kids, having a peanut butter sandwich is a way of life. For Carey Poindexter, it could lead to his death. Peanuts trigger a violent allergic reaction in Carey – a reaction that, without treatment, would cause him to stop breathing. And that’s only the beginning. Carey, now age 6, is allergic to all nuts, all dairy,eggs, beef and wheat and, until recently, corn, too. Add his allergies to dogs, cats, mold, grass, perfumes, mildew and dust – and his asthma – and you begin to see that this little boy faces some pretty big challenges.
Carey is, “An allergy poster boy,” says his physician, Dr. Michael Welch of Children’s Allergy and Immunology Department. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 6 to 8 percent of children suffer from food allergies, but Carey’s are particularly severe. “He has had everything and in its worst form,” says Welch. “It’s very rare for a child to suffer to this high of a degree.” Suffer, however, is a relative term. Allergies may be a part of Carey’s life, but they don’t limit it.
This smart and active little charmer has an appetite for adventure equal to any six-year-old boy – from playing basketball to eating his favorite foods: French fries and chicken nuggets.
“He’s really smart,” says Dr. Welch. In fact, Carey can name all his medications as easily as he can name the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But don’t look to Leonardo or Donatello for the power behind Carey’s winning attitude. The real superhero in this allergy success story is Carey’s mom, Vikita.
“I didn’t want to have the ‘why me’ blues,” Vikita explains. Instead, she took a proactive role in her son’s care that has made all the difference in his quality of life.
Her journey into pediatric healthcare began when Carey was only six weeks old and came down with a skin infection called seborrheic dermatosis, a condition that also left him more vulnerable to future conditions, such as asthma and other allergies.
Those allergies began showing up when Carey was six months old. The non-fat milk proteins in his baby food caused welts and breathing problems. Eggs caused the same problem. Slowly, food-by-food. Vikita began to discover that she had to be very careful and because Carey was also getting severe ear infections, pneumonia and sinusitis, they needed to find a medical team who could help him through every aspect of care.
That’s when Carey came to Children’s. Through his new primary care physician, Dr. Danielle Winkler, he started seeing specialists throughout the hospital: Dr. John Bastian of Allergy and Immunology, where Carey asthma was first diagnosed; Dr. Seth Pransky of Otolarangology, who performed surgery to help ease the recurrent ear infectious; and Dr. Welch, who still sees Carey every few months to this day.
“When a child is this sick, the key is working as a team,” Dr. Welch says, explaining that the parents are really the most valuable players. “This mom has her act together. She makes sure the diet restrictions and medications happen.”
This is high praise, but it came at a cost. Vikita had to learn to keep scrupulous records of every doctor’s visit, every change in medication, every reaction. She has what she calls “Carey’s Book,” filled with the exact dates and diagnoses.
She reads every food label word for word, knowing that even the smallest amount of a restricted food could trigger a reaction. “There are 279 different names for milk,” she explains. “You have to learn what to look for.” When the family goes to a new restaurant, Vikita personally talks the chef. Hand washing after being outside goes without saying. “This is just a way of life,” she says.
Vikita finds the larger challenges really come from people who minimize the severity of food allergies. “They say things like, ‘If you keep giving him a little, he’ll build up a tolerance’, and I have to tell them, ‘If you give it to him, he could die.’ It sounds harsh, but they have to understand."
Her quest to help people understand has led Vikita to become a powerful advocate and community resource. She is now working to open the Breathe Easier Christian Pre-School, a special facility for kids with food allergies – and where parents can leave their kids for a few hours without worries.
“I just kept hoping that if there was one person who would understand what we were going through,” she says. “Then I thought – why can’t I be that person for others? We will provide quality education and a safe place for the kids.”
For now, the Poindexters are taking things one day – and one food at a time. Some childhood allergies do diminish, and Carey waits, hopefully, for the day when he might be able to have a dog. And that, you can tell, is way more important than any food – even a peanut butter sandwich.
Do you know anyone suffering from lung disease? Examples like asthma, COPD, bronchitis, lung Cancer? Who? How has it impacted you or them? Why do you ask?
We have constantly recieved an "F" in our qualilty of our air. For me that is not only unacceptable but affects me directly with trying to breathe.
I am homeschooled as a result of my asthma. If I received an “F” in any class I would be in serious trouble.
I have to check the air quality everyday, just to see if it is safe for me to go outside and play. Why do you ask?
You read my bio so you know why this is so important to me.
As the Junior Ambassador of the American Lung Association, I am trying to educate, bring awareness and be an advocate for those like me who suffer with lung disease. But I can’t do it by myself. I know that teenagers like us can make a difference. We hear so much negative things that teenagers do, but about those of us like you and l that are trying to make a difference in our communities.
I know that I am only 15, but I know together we have to Fight for Clean Air.
Let me give you some information that you may not be aware of:
Asthma is the number one chronic disease of children.
Approximately 3.7 million adults and 1.7 million children have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives according to the ALA.
Asthma affects almost 25 million people of all ages and races.
On average, a child misses 26 days of school per year due to his/her asthma.
Only 33% of adults and 39% of children with asthma have asthma management plans from a doctor.
An individual hospitalized for asthma spent an average of $24,000.
The cost of asthma hospitalizations in California for 2005 was $763 million. That’s not including trips to the ER. Now it is 2014 and that number obviously has increased.
My mission is to spread public awareness of asthma and lung disease.
If we do not Fight for our clean air, more residents like me will continue to pay millions of dollars for ER visits and hospitalizations due to their lung disease.
I know that you have several priorities but, breathing for me is a monumental task. It is something that others take for granted. But I have to deal with it on a daily basis.
So I am counting on you to help me Fight for Air for all the residents of our communities not just those of us suffering from lung disease.
My goal is for no one should have to Fight for Air.
I put on a family friendly benefit every year entitled “Artists for Air” to raise money for the ALA.
Please visit my event page for the past Artists for Air Benefit Concerts that were held.
The ALA puts on the Fight for Air walk on the 2nd Saturday in November at the Embarcadero Marina Park in San Diego. I want you to Join my team, Carey’s Champions.
If you know someone who suffers from lung disease walk for them or walk for me. After all, I am not suppose to be here.
If you know someone suffering from lung disease and would like to assist me with my mission to FIght for Air, please contact me. I could really use your help.