During Food Allergy Awareness Week, there are many ways to educate others about food allergies and what it’s like to live with them. We offer several tools and ideas to help you get involved. But we also encourage you to be creative and spread awareness in your own way.
As part of this year’s focus, More Than Food Allergies, we want to highlight Dana Kagan. She has used her food allergies as inspiration to help other children better understand food allergies. Dana’s efforts are important because helping others understand food allergies can help create safer, more inclusive environments for children with special dietary needs.
Dana shares her story below. We hope it will inspire you and your family to raise awareness in fun and creative ways. Show us how your child overcomes food allergies by sharing your photo for our More Than Food Allergies photo sharing contest.
By Dana Kagan
Hi! My name is Dana and I’m 13 years old. I am an eighth grader and I live in New York with my parents and my younger brother. I love acting in plays, playing softball, and hanging out with my friends on the weekends. I stay up late finishing homework assignments, beg my parents to buy me the latest iPhone, and count down the days before summer vacation each year. If someone were to ask me, I’d say that I’m just like any other kid my age. Well, that is, except for one thing — I have life-threatening food allergies.
I am allergic to eggs, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, bananas, kiwi, avocados and carrots. Managing so many allergies can be difficult at times. I’d be lying if I said I’m not sometimes envious of those who can eat whatever they want without worry. However, allergies are, in fact, very manageable when the proper preventive measures are taken. Mostly, I handle my allergies by avoiding the foods that I’m allergic to and being cautious when eating out. I always make sure to read food labels carefully and to carry two epinephrine auto-injectors with me at all times. Sometimes, even this is not enough. I’ve ended up in the emergency room several times because of accidental exposures to allergens, and had to use my epinephrine auto-injector.
One of my scariest reactions was when I was in fourth grade. It was caused by a mistake that was made by restaurant staff when I was on vacation with my family. I had to be taken to the emergency room in an unfamiliar area and to be monitored there for a long time. This reaction left me very anxious and stressed to be near any allergens, as well as about the people to whom I am forced to entrust my safety on a daily basis. I did not want my allergies to stop me from being with my friends and do the things I love. I thought of ways I could feel safe while being surrounded by the foods I am allergic to.
This is when I got the idea for an educational food allergy game which would teach people about food allergy safety in a fun way. After several months of creating and revising it, I began to present this game to my classmates, and it was an immediate success. The teachers of other classes and grades requested that I come in to show my game to their classes as well. I even was invited to present to large numbers of students in schools throughout my district. I continue to do these presentations today, and I have already educated about 1,500 students in just five years. It feels good to know that I am making a difference, and I hope that in the future, kids with food allergies will not have to deal with the levels of stress and anxiety that I and many others deal with on a daily basis today.
In addition to my presentations, I work to raise awareness and money for food allergies in other ways. I have been involved in raising money for food allergy awareness and research through events such as walks and other fundraisers. I have also trained others in using an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency.