Here, Lisa Munro, 45, tells the story in her own words.
A￼dding the last lolly to the roof of the gingerbread house, my kids, Alex, 11, and Paige, nine, stood back to admire their work.
‘You did such a great job,’ I beamed. Grinning from ear to ear, the kids were so excited about Christmas. After years of feeling left out, Alex was finally able to join in the festivities.
From the moment he was born, Alex was an unsettled baby. Crying from morning to night when we brought him home from hospital, nothing seemed to calm him. Even while he was feeding he would scream the house down. With nine years between him and his older sister Elena, now 20, I was worried I was out of practice. ‘I’m sure he’ll grow out of it,’ my hubby Chris, 47, assured me.
But instead of being a happy, bubbly boy, Alex was underweight and unwell. We took him to our local GP, but my concerns were dismissed. ‘Just give him time to settle,’ I was told.
But if anything, time seemed to make it worse. Developing a case of chronic eczema, Alex became hot and irritated. We tried everything from special washes, creams and even wet dressings to soothe his red skin. It wasn’t until he was three that someone took notice.
‘You should ask for an allergy test,’ his child-health nurse suggested. Suddenly, I had a light-bulb moment. That would explain his fear of trying new foods, I realised.
Seeing him eating just yoghurt, cheese and bread, I’d been at my wits’ end. But when his arm broke out in angry red bumps during a skin prick test, everything made sense. It turned out he was allergic to nuts, soy, egg and, worst of all, dairy! That’s all I’ve been feeding him! I thought, panicked.
I also realised everything I had eaten while breastfeeding would’ve been passed on to him too. No wonder he had been so unhappy!
With the help of specialists, we were able to put together a meal plan that ensured he received all his nutrients. Though it took some getting used to, we finally adjusted to his new diet and what ingredients to look out for in foods.
Then, the following year, an endoscopy revealed that Alex’s condition was far worse than we thought. Doctors diagnosed Alex with eosinophilic esophagitis, and explained his throat would get inflamed when he ate certain foods. Further tests showed he was also allergic to gluten, rice, beef, fish and sesame. What on earth am I going to feed him? I fretted.
Scrolling through blogs, support groups and even allergy charities such as ausEE Inc. for advice, I soon found there was a range of recipes suitable for Alex. I just needed to learn to be more creative in the kitchen. By replacing cow’s milk with coconut milk and using chia seeds instead of egg, I became a whiz at whipping up cakes and slices. I even managed to create a nut-free satay.
Incredibly, within three days of starting his new restricted diet, Alex’s eczema had completely cleared up, he was sleeping better and he was happier overall. ‘He’s a completely different child,’ I said to Chris.
But despite my best efforts to always make my boy feel included, there were times he still felt left out, such as at Easter and Christmas.
While other kids swapped fairy cakes, chocolate and candy canes, Alex couldn’t take any risks. My boy’s allergic to Christmas, I thought sadly.
Though he always carried an EpiPen, even the smallest trace of peanut could leave him gasping for air. So I decided to make a huge batch of cupcakes for him to take to school during special occasions. And instead of giving him a chocolate advent calendar for Christmas, I made my own. Each pocket contained lollies and passes to spend a day at the park. He was overcome with joy.
Over time, I noticed more allergy-friendly products were popping up in specialty shops around the city. But it would take me hours to drive around to visit each one to find what I needed. There must be an easier way, I thought to myself. So in December, 2012, I decided to take the plunge and create my own business called Happy Tummies.
Selling everything from cereal to ice cream cones, I try to cater to everyone’s needs. And at Christmas I even offer a gingerbread house kit for allergy kids to enjoy!
I’ve received such heartfelt comments from other mums who know how tough it is to cater to their child’s diet, especially at this time of year.
Though being the parent of an allergy kid isn’t always easy, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. After all, a happy, healthy child is the best gift you could hope for.
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