Saturday, July 19, 2014

Back to School: Part 1/Getting Organized!

As I sit here writing this, I cannot believe that summer is half over!  Seriously, where did the time go.  I think I spent much of June organizing from the previous year and for the start of the new school year.  I  am trying to stay ahead of the game (aren't we all) by being prepared with all of the necessary forms needed at the beginning of the school year.  Whether it is immunization records or medication authorization forms, all of it needs our undivided attention so that we do not make any mistakes.  With that said, I started prepping for my kids back to school as soon as the other ended to avoid any end of summer anxiety that may be lurking.  For me, staying organized and having plans keep me calm.  My husband and many others who know me call me OCD, but I certainly think it benefits us all when managing two youngsters with severe food allergies.

Once 2014 summer began and I had all of our food allergy emergency kits back in my possession, I began to assess each one.  This is when I go through and check expiration dates, what needs refills and prepare my new food allergy action plans from FARE ( for my kids' allergist to fill out (I mail them in and pick them up at out summer check ups).  I like to have a new one each year with an updated photo attached.  Last year while aimlessly shopping school supplies at Wal-Mart, I stumbled upon this inexpensive zipper pouch ($1).  They came in these really fun and bright colors.  I immediately started thinking of what I could use them for!  Then it hit me at how fantastic they would be for my kids' emergency kits for school.  Other than being super cheap, I loved the fact that they had a 'window' where my child's picture could be seen along with his name, allergies and weight.  Bingo!  I bought four!  One could only imagine how elated I was when ALL of the important stuff fit so neatly into it: Auvi-Q box (set of 2), small bottle of Zyrtec, and an inhaler!  Now I know it may seem so mundane to some of you out there, but this helped organize things for my husband and I.

Food Allergy Emergency Kit

After assessing what I need for each kit, I make a list and print my epinephrine coupons.  You can check out and to see if your eligible.  The coupons will allow you to receive up to three 'free' epinephrine pens (no copay) per prescription. I attach both an Auvi-Q coupon and an EpiPen coupon to each of my childrens' prescriptions.  This is super since getting multiple sets can add up.  Make sure to check the expiration dates when you receive your auto-injectors as I received epipens that expired in 6 months.  The pharmacist graciously swapped them out for epipens with longer expiration dates as I do not want to have to remember to change out expired pens during the school year.

Another must have for back to school is an allergy awareness bracelet.  Right now my kids think that they are really cool.  Here is a bracelet that I recently found at Wal-Mart near the pharmacy.  I cannot tell you exactly where the bracelets are located since this particular one seemed to be misplaced sitting atop the bandaids with no others in sight.  I took it as a sign that I needed to get it.  So I did.  

Food allergy awareness bracelet

 I like this bracelet because it has snaps and can grow with my child.  It was inexpensive too.  I recall paying about $5.  The other bracelets that we own are from Allerbling.  They are bright orange and came with two sizes (non adjustable) per pack.  I ordered the bracelets from Amazon a couple of years ago for about $15.  I am pleased with all of the bracelets and my kids are too.  On a side note, I have also seen individual food allergy awareness bracelets at CVS.  The last time I checked, my local CVS did not carry a bracelet that included all of the allergens.

Last year, Dairy Allergy Mom and I made bright, mini, classroom posters.  This was a new idea that we implemented.  Our goal was to assist classroom personnel (ie. homeroom parents, substitute teachers, etc..) in better identifying our food allergy kids.  The posters simply listed each child's food allergies and had a current school picture. The posters were hung in the classroom and were well received by school administration.  Both Dairy Allergy Mom and myself were delighted to hear that our school nurse keeps a similar system in her office.  This year we will make similar posters.

Lastly, in an effort to be back to school prepared, Dairy Allergy Mom and I met with our school principal and school nurse.  This was uncharted territory to meet during the summer!  We wanted to meet before school to avoid having the 'Meet the Teacher' night be all about our kids' food allergies.  I must say that following this meeting I was very relieved.  Sometimes you don't realize how stressed out you are until it is gone, right?  The meeting helped to manage our expectations.  It was comforting to hear that the food allergy policy will now be a part of our school handbook.  Dairy Allergy Mom and I continue our quest to educate and not to isolate.  We want the same things for our kids as everybody else...inclusion.  We have been blessed to meet the right people to help us along on our journey.

If any of you have ideas that you would like to share about your 'Back to School' preparations, please attend our next meeting on August 4, 2014.  We would love to hear from you.

Back to School: Part 2/504's and IEP's: What are these things?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dairy Allergy Family Travels…South of the Border!? Travel preparation checklist and timeline.

This is the last installment in this topic and is in a format I hope you can easily adapt to your plans.

4 months in advance
Booking Airfare:
Take the first flight of the day. The planes get the best cleaning overnight and you will be dealing with airline staff that is fresh and more likely to be customer friendly. Of course the farther in advance you book the better. Strategically, if you sit at the back of the plane more people will pass by you with contaminants on their hands.   Likewise sitting in the aisle increases your chance of 2nd hand exposure.  Weigh this against your need for emergency potty breaks.
4 months in advance
Booking ground transportation:
Nothing to remark here!
3/4 months in advance
Booking lodging:

Location.  Beach resorts tend to be grouped on a single strip in a tourist zone.  In Mexico this means that you are farther from local facilities; you’ll want to know how far you are from the city center, emergency care and grocery stores.

Key management staff.  Before we arrived, we started weekly communication with the reservation staff, front desk management, and the medical advisor (doctor on staff). Short emails reminded them of our allergy.  It started with requests for Restaurant menus to see what was off limits etc.  We went so far as to share resources (Welcoming Guests) from the FARE website.

Kitchen Staff: Our initial request to prepare our own food in the restaurant kitchens was declined.  So we started a dialog of how to train the servers and cooking staff about allergy awareness sharing more FARE resources!  Fortunately we were accommodated with a kitchenette, so it became a moot point.

Cleaning staff: For people with environmental allergies a visit to the desert in the middle of summer is, well, a great idea!!  Cleaning a sandy room in a low humidity environment is easy.  This is compared to our experience in Cancun, where humidity is high, vegetation, pollen and mildew is more of a concern.  HVAC in Houston (the most air conditioned city in the nation) is great, anywhere else…eh.  We take it for granted that the air inside will be cool and dry.

2 months in advance
Introduce medical staff:
This was a little miracle.  By chance the hotel doctor on staff had been in residency in Houston.  By chance our allergist is from Latin America.  As a professional courtesy to both I arranged introductions by phone before our arrival.  Now these coincidences were more than I could have planned for, but the Drs. common experience and compassion for healing was one more way we bridged the awareness gap.

2 weeks before travel
Meet with allergist:
This is where we received the signed documents identifying all medications that we are travelling with, what their purpose is, and also the statement that foods are necessary to ensure safe food is available throughout the trip and not only the flight.

Day of travel
Arrival at the terminal:
Do not take advantage of curbside check in!  You don’t want risk your checked luggage not making it to the ticketing counter and have someone hold it up because of the food and  / dry ice.

Day of travel
Ticketing and check in:
Here is where you have to explain that you are carrying the cooler full of perishable foods.  This is where United charged for the hazardous material (dry ice) and the cooler gets labelled as such with additional stickers.

Day of travel
We were able to get through check without incident.  Be prepared with print outs from the TSA website describing their policy; in case you get a new hire.

Day of travel
Boarding the plane:
United did not allow preboarding for small children by policy.  But if you can show that you are doing them a favor by entering the back of the plane 1st and not holding up everyone else they may see it your way!  This will allow you a little more time to wipe down the seats and armrests around you.

Day of travel
In flight :
While we did not benefit from this, airlines in Canada have implemented a buffer zone.  The flight can be arranged so that flight attendants make a proactive effort at restricting nuts during flight.  You have to make the arrangements a few days in advance of the flight.

That's it!  best of luck & Buen Viaje!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dairy Allergy Family Travels…South of the Border!? Online resources we found helpful

I've taken longer than I intended to post the second part of this blog.  Vacation will do that to your inbox; you return to a mountain where there was once a molehill.

It is now July and I hope that this blog will find you in time for your own summer travels.  There are plenty of online resources for traveling with food, so I am providing you with a “what really happened” report.

One of the first things we found in planning our trip to Mexico is not all packaged foods are distributed outside the USA.  No problem, we all know about ‘care’ packages being shipped overseas, so it seemed reasonable that we could pack food we know to be safe.

The most important resource is the Transportation Security Administration website - If you can’t get it past security, you can’t eat it.  Then the airline’s website - If you can’t get it on the plane, you can’t eat it.  Then Mexico’s customs website - If you can’t get it in the country you can’t eat it.

One by one:

1.       TSA allows the transport of more than the typical 3.5 oz. of fluids in carry on luggage.  It also allows for much larger quantities in checked luggage:

You will need to get a statement from your doctor describing the medical need for food / medicine in your carry on luggage.  Checked foods simply need to be packed safely against leaks.  All items contained within the cooler and the total weight of the cooler + foods need to be labeled on the outside, visible to a TSA inspector.  United has a 50 pound limit before they charge for extra weight, but we were well within this limit.

2.       Related to transporting food is the need to keep it from spoiling; United Airlines has a policy for packing perishables in dry ice (the FAA does not allow liquid gel coolants).  They also have a policy for charging you.  This was ridiculously expensive and it is considered a hazardous substance.

United Airlines fees for traveling with dry ice:

We found that United’s limit of 5.5 pounds of dry ice was more than enough to chill a 35 gallon cooler for a 4 hour flight.

3.       Guidelines on what foods can be brought to Mexico:

I'm not sure what happened here.  I understood from official websites that so long as meat was prepackaged, vacuum sealed, with U.S.D.A stamps that bringing meat from USA to Mexico was ok.  I was angry when we arrived in Mexico to find my TSA approved lock and most of our food missing. Instead I found a crumpled up TSA inspection form and no explanation.   Perhaps the lock failed and the cooler busted open on the conveyor belt; but there was a little of everything left; meat included.

  Maybe someone was hanging out in the airport and was really hungry, like that Snowden guy.  I hoped it was simply a fugitive of international espionage and not someone who didn't know the policy.

Be warned, this was an expensive investment, but we managed to buy all we needed in Mexico.

As a side lesson, we found during our trip to Walmart that labeling in Mexico captures the Big 8 Allergens!

crustacean shellfish
tree nuts
nueces de √°rbol
haba de soja

Next week I will detail our checklist; putting the plan on paper.

Blog entries to come:
·         Travel Preparation Checklist

·         Travel Plan Timeline

Save the Date