With Friends Like These...

Now that I've had a chance to catch up and calm down, I feel that I need to revisit the outrageous remarks made at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's annual conference by the organization's president  Dr. Sami Bahna.

The food allergy community is infuriated by what we see as a betrayal by the head of an organization of medical professionals dedicated to treating us and our extraordinarily vulnerable children.  As I've reread his high handed pronouncements about the futility of peanut bans in airplanes and schools and the rights of "non-allergic persons" to consume food whenever and wherever they wish, I've come to a few conclusions.

The first is that Dr. Bahna undoubtedly believes that he is taking a fair, balanced and reasonable approach to the subject of accommodations for food allergic individuals.

The second is that Dr. Bahna is completely out of touch with the reality that his food allergic patients face on a daily basis.

His remarks have triggered a discussion within the community as to whether peanut bans make sense in airplanes, but not schools, whether age of student/type of food/severity of allergy should be considered in making these determinations.  I've jumped in myself.

This is all a distraction from the real issue.

Anyone can stand up and make declarations about the best way to manage life threatening food allergies.  I consider it a minor miracle that I can sit down at my computer, post something on my blog and a couple hundred people will actually take time out of their day to read it.  A few will even leave a comment or email me, and I am incredibly grateful for every response that lets me know I'm not alone in dealing with this terrifying reality that just one bite of perfectly normal food could deprive me of my child forever.

The truth is that I am just another voice on the internet, one more opinion in a sea of opinions.  I am not a doctor.  I am not a specialist in allergies.  I most certainly am not the head of an association of medical professionals.

Dr. Bahna is all that and more.  He has gratuitously made himself into an obstacle for any parent trying to convince an uncooperative school administrator to create a safe space for their allergic child to receive the education he or she is legally entitled to have.  Just try asking for a food free classroom now.  "Well, the president of the ACAAI says that peanut bans don't work."  It won't matter if the parent's request is completely reasonable and has nothing to do with banning peanuts school wide.  I can guarantee that the consequences will be completely out of proportion to the intent of Dr. Bahna's ill-advised remarks.

Dr. Bahna is also a gift to any airline executive with an emotional or financial investment in passing out little bags of peanuts to passengers.  Never mind that they are completely unnecessary to the transport of passengers from Point A to Point B and have the potential to kill off some of them en route.  "The president of the ACAAI says that peanut bans don't work."

To all appearances Dr. Bahna is completely oblivious to the real world implications of his pronouncement on peanut bans from his lofty post as president of the ACAAI.  This lack of judgement makes him completely unsuitable for the position.

I will be emailing the ACAAI at mail@acaai.org to let the association know just how inappropriate I find Dr. Bahna's remarks.  I will also make a point of asking my son's allergist whether he is aware of what Dr. Bahna has said, so that at least one of the organization's voting members know what an embarrassment they have as their president.

Feel free to join me.


Diane said...

Very well said. I too have a peanut and tree nut allergic child and also have a blog about it. I'm so glad you wrote about this. You have stayed much calmer than me.

I am more than disappointed in his remarks. I'm so angry! It's hard enough to get people to take the time to hear why it's so unsafe. In general I am not an advocate for peanut free schools but feel that every kid has the right to be safe and every school situation needs make the right accommodations for their students. Whether it be a school wide ban or classroom ban. I think there are many factors that that need to be taken into consideration to make those decisions.

As far as air planes, I do no think they should be served period. There is no way out, not way to get emergency help, and that is terrifying. You are stuck. I can't believe Dr. Bahna thinks that is ok.

Elizabeth Goldenberg, Onespot Allergy said...

This is an excellent post. I'll share it on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/OnespotAllergy We were discussing Dr. Bahna's comments this week as well, and I share your concerns. I spent all summer and fall promoting my petition in support of the Department of Transportation's proposed ban of peanuts from airlines, and this was a slap in the face. The petition is here, and it's still live if anyone would like to add their signature: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/banning_peanuts_from_airlines

Lissa said...

Obviously these comments are inflammatory within our community - I think it's a real shame that mainstream media will report the comments, but likely not the reaction. So, once again our voices are heard only within the community that already understands. The arrogance and the audacity of Dr. Bahna thinking that because of his position he has the right to make such sweeping generalizations is actually not surprising so much as it is depressingly predictable and frustrating. Because this DISEASE is so incredibly variable and unpredictable, I would think that any responsible individual (let alone medical specialist and supposed spokesperson for the allergic community) would be touting, at a minimum, a level-headed and practical individualized approach to safety concerns. Let us create a broader community of understanding and empathy so that when we, as food allergic individuals or parents of FAI, ask for reasonable and necessary accommodations based on the specific circumstances present they can be met with a willingness to dialogue and arrange a safe, happy and normal life.

Is that too much to ask?

Anonymous said...

We are broken down so much by just living life as PA parents. This betrayal is unforgivable. He needs to do the right thing and resign.

liseetsa said...

Diplomatically spoken. I have a fb page for my son who is undergoing desensitization for a peanut allergy, "Peanut Anaphylaxis Cure." And I update everyday on our page as well as write on many of our food allergy support pages. I "reacted" on the ACAAI page prematurely and then again when I discovered another allergist in disguise defending Dr. Bahna.

After reading the NPR bloggers comments, I cannot respond. I am so repulsed by their attitudes and words. Even the people who have peanut allergies seem to be so bitter and insensitive to the "6% of children under 5 with a peanut allergy." (according to Dr. Bahna's stated guidelines which are about to change Dec. 6th.)

I thought of sharing a typical day, like after my 4yr. old (at the time)was suddenly stricken with this nightmare condition. He was at the top of a slide and saw a large group of school children carrying lunch bags towards the park. "Let's go home! Let's go NOW!!!" I calmed him down, spoke with one of the teachers who said it would take them 30 minutes or so to eat before they invaded the playsets with their UNWASHED, undoubtedly, peanut butter hands. So we went down the slide a few more times, swung his little sister in the swings for a few minutes, then left on our own terms. And then driving away, tears streamed down my face as I realized how the rest of his life could proceed with a peanut allergy.

I set up to find a cure, get him to it, and thankfully, it is working out. What I never expected was the callous, disgusting attitude of those without children who have food allergies, and teachers, and business and society and our government as a whole.

One grandmother of a three year old professes that SHE, the 3 year old, "takes responsibility for her own life." If parents cannot crack the code on food labels, how can a child who cannot read, take responsibility for anything?

In a sense, I cannot dignify their comments with a response. But the truth of the matter is that I am traumatized silent. How must our children feel every day living with food allergies?

Anonymous said...

Lissa is correct about the fact that mainstream media will give far more attention to Dr. Bahna's remarks than to individuals who deal with this for every second of their lives. I had a woman say that 200 airline passengers should not be inconvenienced for one person. The allergic person should wear goggles, mask and gloves for the flight. I would like to see her wear this for hours much less an active child. There is a lot of educating needed for the general public and Dr. Bahna is not the person to do it.

Mouseymom said...

Hey, thanks for the comment on my little viking red-head blog post! Dr. Bahana's proclamation makes me sick. He is no advocate. He clearly does not have any children with severe food allergies.