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Nurse practitioner raises awareness of food allergies

Cooper Naab is only 7 years old but leads quite the busy life.

The Ledgeview Elementary School first-grader enjoys baseball, golf and fishing.

He likes to catch frogs, turtles and minnows in the creek near his Clarence home.

And he’s a pitcher for the Clarence Blue Jays, coached by his father, Tim.

He likes to snack on strawberries and cantaloupe. He loves to wolf down pizza and brownies. His mom, Kelly, is his favorite baker – and that is unlikely to change, because Cooper has a life-threatening peanut allergy.

“Every day when he gets on the bus, I say, ‘Keep your body safe,’ and we fist pump,” Kelly Naab said last weekend before the family, including Cooper’s brother, Ryder, 4, headed to a Buffalo Bisons game.

Kelly Naab was a registered nurse before she became a mom. She’s been a nurse practitioner the last dozen years.

Her home, work and civic life changed after Cooper had a bad reaction to peanut butter when he was 2.

“Having kids of my own helped me to be a better nurse practitioner. Dealing with something like this has definitely made me more well-versed with food allergies, more compassionate toward families who deal with them,” said Naab, 37, a Williamsville native with nursing and NP degrees from the University at Buffalo, where she met her husband. She is one of four pediatric nurse practitioners at Williamsville Pediatric Center.

She also is helping to organize the FARE Walk for Food Allergy Aug. 8 in LaSalle Park (foodallergywalk.org). She recently approached the Bills, Sabres and Bisons about creating peanut-free seating sections during at least some home games.

“Until a serious food allergy hits your family and you have to live with it every day – until you have to reconstruct your life – you don’t know the impact it can have,” she said. “With proper awareness and education, nobody needs to be put out. We just have to take a few steps to make sure everyone is safe.”

Q. On the job, what concerns do parents express most when it comes to the health and wellness of their children?

Right from the newborn period, there’s a lot of working parents and they want to know that they’re doing things right, or how to do things right. Childhood obesity is a huge problem, so that’s something we touch on a lot during a well visit or yearly visit. Nutrition, behavior, they come up a lot.

Q. Are kids better at getting vaccines than their parents were as kids?

I think so. We follow a schedule. Over the past several years, there seemed to be a movement among some parents to not vaccinate or back down on the number of vaccinations. I think that’s let up a little bit. We believe in vaccinations in our practice.

Q. I meant the stomping and crying?

The teenagers are worse than the little kids. They’re the screamers and the fainters. They’re pretty good, though.

Q. Talk about Cooper.

He doesn’t let knowing that he has a food allergy stop him from enjoying life. He goes off to school every day knowing that a food could potentially hurt him. That’s something I can’t even imagine.

Q. How did things change after the diagnosis?

We had to change the way we eat at our house, what we bought at the grocery store. I no longer bring peanut butter in our house or any products that contain peanuts. Tim and I changed our diet right away. It changed the way I grocery shop. I have to read the label on everything I buy. Even if it was safe last week, labels change a lot. I read them and re-read them before I purchase anything. We call restaurants ahead to make sure they can accommodate us. You have to really be careful about cross-contamination, so if something with peanut butter or peanuts is made in a facility that makes something he might want to have, it’s not considered safe. Bakeries, doughnut shops are not safe for him.

Q. What do you tell other parents when they learn their child has a food allergy?

Reading labels, being cautious of cross-contamination. As a mom, things like birthday parties, sporting events, play dates, teaching them that it’s OK to say “no thank you” if you’re not sure. Also, to raise awareness. With these allergies, we’re not talking about a reaction that comes with a sneeze or a rash. We’re talking about a life-threatening allergy. That’s important for everyone to know and understand.

Q. Talk about your pitch for peanut-free seating.

I did some research and realized that several other sports organizations in the country and in Canada – the Toronto Blue Jays, for example – have started putting in peanut-reduced sections for people who might want to attend a game safely. … I certainly don’t want to keep Cooper in a bubble, but there can be a place, a section, where kids and adults can sit, and realize that the person in front of them, behind them, is not shelling peanuts on the ground.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: Learn more about food allergies at refresh.buffalonews.com.