When junior Lauren Larrabee was a baby, she had a constant rash on her face. Her parents assumed it was eczema until Larrabee was 2 years old and ate a walnut her grandfather gave her.
Immediately her throat closed up, and she couldn’t breathe. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where they found out that the cause of her symptoms was anaphylactic shock brought on by the walnut.
“I remember waking up and seeing a bunch of people in white coats and my mom beside me,” Larrabee said.
After some tests, Larrabee’s parents also learned that her rash wasn’t eczema, but rather a reaction to the peanut butter she often ate—and that she was allergic to all nuts and seeds.
Years later, Larrabee still has to be cautious about what she eats. Not only will eating nuts or seeds send her into anaphylactic shock, but even skin contact with the their oils can cause a reaction.
“My throat will close up; I’ll get hives,” Larrabee said. “It can happen even if someone eats a nut and touches me.”
This last part is why Larrabee often feels nervous and separated around people eating nuts, especially pistachios (the worst of her nut allergies).
“There’s a scale based on how allergic I am, how fatal the nut is,” Larrabee said. “There’s a point where the scale stops because it’s so high. Pistachios are off the scale.
“I get nervous when people eat pistachios at school. A lot of people like to throw the shells, and I ask them not to. But they don’t understand how severely allergic I am.”
Freshman Daniel Hernried also feels separated from his peers by his allergies, although they can’t be set off by skin contact.
For Hernried, the allergic trigger was milk instead of nuts. When he was only a year old, his nanny fed him milk from a bottle (as opposed to the formula milk he was accustomed to). Hernried reacted to the milk by throwing up on his nanny.
His parents took him to the hospital, where he was tested for various food allergies, and learned that he was allergic to dairy, tree nuts and peanuts.
But Hernried’s list of food restrictions was not yet complete. During Spring Break of fifth grade, Hernried visited Greece with his brother and father.
In Athens, they went to a restaurant, where Hernried ordered the lamb souvlaki. Once he started eating, Hernried’s esophagus began to close, though he didn’t know it at the time. All he knew was that he couldn’t swallow.
“I tried drinking, but I would just spit it back into the cup,” Hernried said. “I think I made nine bathroom stops to spit out what I couldn’t swallow.”
When Hernried returned to the hotel, his symptoms didn’t stop.
“After three hours of just spitting into a bucket, we got a cab and went to the hospital.”
The Greek doctors did a biopsy on Hernried’s esophagus but were unable to find the source of the problem.
Hernried left the hospital with only one instruction: don’t eat lamb.
“Imagine not eating lamb in Greece,” he said with a smile. “It was pretty difficult.”
When Hernried came home, he made another trip to the hospital, where he had a second biopsy of his esophagus, blood tests and an allergy test.
This time the tests were more successful. The doctors told him that he had eosinophilic esophagitis, a condition in which certain foods inflame the esophagus, and gave him a list of things he couldn’t eat.
Included in that list were lamb, beef, pork and zucchini, along with the already known peanuts, tree nuts and dairy.
“I really just wanted to break into tears at that point,” said Hernried, who still has a biopsy of his esophagus every spring.
For Hernried, though, one of the worst aspects of his allergies is that they detach him from his peers.
“I see people eating these things that I can’t eat, but that I want to eat,” Hernried said. “I feel like I’m sitting in a corner all alone while other people have a party.”
For example, when history teacher Daniel Neukom talks about how delicious cheese pizza is during class, everyone drools—except Hernried.
“I’ve never had the experience of eating cheese pizza,” Hernried said. “I never know what he’s talking about.”
Hernried also remembers that when he was little, he could never fully be a part of a friend’s birthday party because he couldn’t eat the cake or ice cream.
“It’s been hard on me,” Hernried said. “But I’ve learned to live with it.”
But Hernried said he occasionally cheats and eats things he likes, even though he shouldn’t.
“I still slip in hamburgers or bacon sometimes,” he said. “I can eat a small bit, but not a lot. If I keep eating these things I’m allergic to, my esophagus will scar and start bleeding.”
Senior Sydney Jackson, who is lactose intolerant, has a similar approach to eating foods she isn’t supposed to.
“I had more severe reactions as a baby because I didn’t know any better,” said Jackson, whose parents learned of her condition when she was a year old and would get stomach cramps from formula milk. “The worst I remember was curling in a ball for an hour and a half with stomach pain.
“(But now) I can have a little bit (of dairy). For example, I can eat tops two slices of pizza. I don’t drink milk or have plain cheese ever because I’m so used to not having any.”
Like Hernried, Jackson felt ostracized as a child.
“I felt separated with pizza or ice cream at a little kid’s birthday party,” she said. “I could only have a tiny bit; otherwise I would be in pain.”
Now, however, she doesn’t have such problems. “The only problems I face now with (lactose intolerance) are if I go on trips or to people’s houses for dinner, I have to warn them in advance because I feel bad wasting (dairy) food.”
Senior Leilani Reid-Vera also has to watch what she is served because of her cashew allergy.
“It’s pretty easy to work around (eating cashews),” said Reid-Vera, who originally had a peanut allergy as well, but grew out of that dietary restriction. “Lots of Asian food has cashews, and I just won’t eat it. Or there will be little blocks of cashews (on a dish), and I just won’t eat that.”
But Reid-Vera said her allergy has never separated her from her peers.
“It’s not a big thing,” she said. “Cashews aren’t in everything.”
Nonetheless, she points out that sometimes cashews cause her to be left out of sharing food with friends.
“If there’s trail mix, I can’t eat it because if the nuts touch other stuff, I will still react,” Reid-Vera said. “It’s the same with Asian food; if the nuts touch the other stuff, I will still break out.
“I hate the feeling of the reaction, so I’ll ask people if there’s cashews in the food before I eat anything.”
On the other hand, sophomore Elie Kuppermann doesn’t feel as though her hazelnut allergy separates her from others at all.
“Hazelnuts don’t really appear in many foods,” said Kuppermann, who learned of her allergies when her face swelled up after she ate a Nutella-and-graham-cracker sandwich in second grade.
“I only have a reaction when I eat them, so otherwise they do not affect me.”
Larrabee, however, doesn’t have the same kind of flexibility.
“If I go out to dinner I’ll always ask if something has nuts and if they can (keep them out of the dish),” she said.
Despite this caution, Larrabee has experienced her fair share of allergic reactions, the most recent of which was at the school’s Passport Lunch last year.
After eating a pesto pasta made with walnuts, her throat started closing up and hives began appearing. She used her EpiPen (which she keeps with her at all times) and was taken to the emergency room.
Hernried’s worst reaction was the one he experienced in Greece. However, his most embarrassing reaction took place on a class trip to Six Flags last summer.
At the park, Hernried split a churro with a friend, not knowing that it contained milk.
“I started coughing and I didn’t feel good,” Hernried said. “My face got puffy and I was sweating. It was the first time I had had an allergic reaction in front of my friends.
“It was really embarrassing. I was on the bus laying down when everyone walked in and I was like, ‘Oh, God. I hope they’re not looking at me.’”
Even so, Hernried doesn’t take as many precautions as Larrabee. That is, he doesn’t carry an EpiPen at all times.
“My mom carried (one) when I was young,” Hernried said. “As I grew up, (my parents) kind of left it to me. (But) when I’m with my mom she still hovers over me making sure I’m not eating bad things.”
Hernried says he tries not to be nervous, although he’s always worried that the doctors will find more scars in his esophagus.
A finding like that could mean internal bleeding in his esophagus in the future—a thought he can’t forget as he watches his friends eating pizza and ice cream.