What terrifies Victoria Segal is her belief that when most people think about allergies, they think "achoo" and not life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
But for Segal's third-grade daughter, Julia, who is 9, and for millions of other children who have severe allergies to common foods such as peanuts, exposure to the allergen can cause trouble breathing, a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure, and, in the worst case, death.
So Segal leaped when she had the chance to apply for a grant that would bring to Long Island the vice president and the chief executive of one of the nation's biggest nonprofits that educates and advocates for people with allergies. On Tuesday, Maria Acebal and Julia Bradsher of the Fairfax, Va.-based Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network will be in Huntington offering an educational program to the public - including PTA members, nurses and teachers from other school districts as well as any interested parent - in English one night and in Spanish on another.
Even if parents don't have a child with an allergy, chances are they will encounter one in their child's class, soccer team or when hosting a birthday party. "Having an understanding of this is doing a valuable service to those who are affected," Segal says.
What the presentation covers
The organization's experts do a 45-minute to one-hour presentation followed by audience questions that focus on the acronym CARE, Acebal says.
C is for comprehending the medical fact that the tiniest amount of food can cause a reaction and that the reaction usually happens two minutes after exposure but can occur up to two hours after exposure. Therefore, every teacher - from the art class to the playground - needs to know if a child is susceptible.
A is for avoiding the allergen, teaching about food ingredient labels, washing hands and surfaces and educating parents of other children in a classroom when one child has an allergy, so they don't send in dangerous foods. Schools often focus on the peanut allergy, because statistically it is most often associated with the reactions that end in death, Acebal says. It's also, because of the nature of peanut butter itself, one of the most difficult to control - it's very sticky and it stays on hands and tables, she says.
R is for recognizing a reaction, which can also include hives, vomiting or diarrhea.
And E is for knowing how to react in an emergency - about calling 911 and administering an EpiPen, which contains the drug epinephrine.
Outreach to the Hispanic community
Segal is especially excited about the presentation being offered in Spanish. Both Segal's daughters - Julia and Sophia, who is 5 and in kindergarten, are enrolled in the Huntington school district's Dual Language program. Segal says she has encountered students from Latino families who have allergies whose parents aren't as familiar with how the school system can protect their children.
Segal recommends that all parents who find out their children have a food allergy create an action plan with the school, working with a core team of the principal, nurse, classroom teachers and lunch aides and learning what the school's policy is on checking food brought in for parties and other occasions.
"There are kids for whom school can be life-threatening if the people who are with them all day are not educated on how to take a little extra care and keep them safe," says Lisa Cahn of Huntington, whose son Jack, 5, is allergic to sesame seeds, tree nuts, peanuts and more.
WHAT: Safe@School allergy awareness programs
WHEN WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 1, in English at Huntington High School, Oakwood and McKay roads, and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, in Spanish at the Jefferson Primary School, Oakwood Road, Huntington
INFO: Free; 917-912-2539; for general information, see foodallergy.org
Making safe treats at home
Here are some cookbooks with recipes for treats kids with allergies can enjoy:
For kids with gluten allergies and intolerance:
"The Ultimate Gluten-Free Cookie Book" by Roben Ryberg (Da Capo Long Life, $16.95). Gluten-free baking can be frustrating because gluten is the protein that holds the dough together. Most of the cookies use brown rice flour or sorghum; no complicated rice blends are required. Ryberg, author of several gluten-free cookbooks, also offers egg- and dairy-free cookies and recipes with single flours.
Nut-, egg- and dairy-free recipes: "The Food Allergy Mama's Baking Book" by Kelly Rudnicki (Agate Surrey, $19.95); foodallergy mama.com. Rudnicki offers advice on how to deal with classroom festivities and birthday parties.
Multiple allergens: "My Kid's Allergic to Everything Dessert Cookbook" by Mary Harris and Wilma Selzer Nachsin (Chicago Review Press, $16.95); mykidsallergictoeverything.com. More than 100 recipes for sweets; the book also has recipes for those who must limit sugar intake or avoid gluten. --Chicago Tribune