According to the Food Allergy Research and Education, 5.9 million children under age 18 have food allergies. Roughly, that is 1 in 13 children, or two in every classroom. In addition, research shows 30% of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food. These statistics can be startling, and not many people know the impact of what having a food allergy means, especially in kids. However, there is one local family who is on a mission to change that and educate the world about living with food allergies.
Caroline Harrell discovered her children, Maddox and Skylar, both had food allergies at young ages. Maddox was only a year old when he was diagnosed with a severe nut allergy, and Skylar was four when a reaction to peanut butter alerted her family that she, too, had food allergies.
Harrell explains, “With Maddox, our pediatrician advised us to introduce the foods that could cause an allergic reaction last. Maddox had his first birthday, and we were on a good stretch until we gave him a cracker with peanut butter on it. He quickly broke out into a rash, and we gave him some Benadryl. We then took him to an allergist, where he was diagnosed with a severe nut allergy. From that day forward we carried Epipens for Maddox. That could have been a scarier day, as we did not realize the severity of food allergies. As for Skylar, we were advised to wait on introducing her until a later age. Of course, we were very hesitant, regardless, just knowing what we knew after going through it with Maddox. Skylar seemed different, though. She didn’t always get sick or show any signs of eczema like Maddox did. We learned quickly that this was not the case in January 2015. Skylar was watching her brother play a basketball game. Innocently enough, she shared a snack with a friend, and I didn’t think twice about it. Quickly Skylar showed all the signs you read about: she complained about a scratchy throat, her lips began to swell, and it was then I realized that snack contained peanut butter. My husband reacted quickly and ran her out of the gym to our car and gave her a shot of Epipen and raced her to the ER. After that long 48 hours, we looked back and realized if Maddox had not carried those Epipens, our story would be much different today. Luckily, we knew what was happening and did not hesitate to give her a shot of epinephrine. Skylar experienced a thing called “rebounding” after she got to the hospital, where she went into anaphylactic shock again. Epipens come in packs of two. We always would break them apart and place them into different hands that may be around our kids. We never realized that the pens should stay together in case the child rebounds. Wow, what we thought we were educated on with Maddox—we had no clue.”
According to Harrell, her children’s stories explain why it’s important to educate people about epinephrine and why they should be at gyms, schools, and public places for children. To help educate others, her family has turned to social media and have created MaddSkye accounts on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
“I cannot take credit for any of the inspiration. I only shoot the videos and post. Maddox came up with everything, from the name to his MaddSkye logo. I call my children, Maddox, “Madd” and Skyler, “Skye.” Madd simply put it together, and the ideas kept coming,” she says.
Maddox’s idea was inspired by his wanting to help kids and their families understand their food allergies. He wanted to help people know it is okay to talk about their experiences. Harrell comments that this “mature conversation floored her,” and she realized how much of an impression Skylar’s experience had had on him.
Maddox adds, “Skylar is my person and is someone I love who has food allergies. I want to help kids cope with, and understand, their allergies to stay safe during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There is a lot of planning that goes into any type of day/event, and the more we talk about it, the safer we’ll be. I want to start the conversation. I am not ashamed, and I am not embarrassed by my allergy.”
Through their social media channels, Harrell and her family hope to help others understand more about food allergies and keeping kids safe. “Children with food allergies are learning and growing, and when a community gets behind them, the anxiety and outcast feelings go away. Maddox and Skylar are surrounded by a great group of friends. When we are around them, and food is involved, you can hear the questions, “Are there nuts in it? Maddox can’t have that.” Now, it’s not always roses, but that is why we always have to educate others. We always take the approach to help others understand, and we always have success with that approach. Our kids wear nut-allergy bracelets to remind them and others to think before giving them any snacks. They are both very aware of their allergy and are confident in talking about it,” states Harrell.
Follow MaddSkye’s journey and learn more about awareness events in the community on their Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram accounts.