For a half hour every school day, Mehri Fakharzadeh’s mother watches her phone. She is hoping it doesn’t ring or buzz with a text. She is hoping that Mehri is OK.
That’s because Mehri, who is a sophomore at Mount St. Mary Academy, has several food allergies. Along with trying to stay healthy by avoiding contact with the foods that can make her ill, Mehri is also trying to educate others about food allergies.
Last month, she traveled to Newport Beach, Calif., to attend the Teen Summit for Food Allergies. She won a scholarship to the event through an application and short essay in which she had to write about a specific setting. She chose the school cafeteria.
"It’s lunchtime at school," Mehri wrote. "Or as my mom calls it, the 30 minutes a day she watches the clock and makes sure her phone is right next to her and watches for the school’s number to appear."
Not only is it a scary experience for the teen who is actually there, but as Mehri pointed out in her essay, parents are often just as fearful as the teens are.
There are more than 170 foods that have been reported to cause allergic reactions.
Eight major food allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish which are responsible for most of the serious food allergy reactions in the United States.
Sesame is a rising allergy concern.
Many precautions go along with food allergies. Some of these include asking about allergies when going out to eat and avoiding foods that could possibly be cross-contaminated at restaurants or other places.
Mehri’s allergies include legumes (peanuts and split peas), pineapple, kiwi, fish, shellfish, rye and tree nuts. The most severe of these are peanuts and tree nuts. As a result, she always carries her EpiPens wherever she goes.
She could go into anaphylactic shock if she ate even one.
Anaphylactic shock is when a person is no longer able to breathe after consuming an allergen. Even the smell of peanuts and tree nuts is bothersome – she gets headaches from it.
Mehri was never really able to be a normal child without allergies. She was born with them, and there was nothing she could do about it. She always knew what she couldn’t eat because that’s just how it had to be for her.
"I remember when I was little, I had my own table in the school lunchroom," Mehri wrote." There was no possible way any peanut butter or nuts would come in contact with me. I carried my EpiPen in a little blue purse … I was protected."
The Teen Summit for Food Allergies was more eye-opening than Mehri was expecting. She learned that others have it way worse than she does and there are some allergies that she didn’t even know existed.
"I thought I had it really bad, but there are more people who have never been to a restaurant, or eaten anything they didn’t make," Mehri said.
Sometimes she feels left out because of her allergies. She can’t go to a party simply because they are serving foods with nuts. Or even that she can’t eat whatever others around her are.
"I definitely feel left out sometimes," Mehri said. "My friend had a party once and told me she was having peanut butter and my mom said I wasn’t going."
Mehri wants to start a club at Mount St. Mary’s that would be based around allergy awareness. Her goals for the club would be to enforce that food allergies are very much real and to teach others how to use an EpiPen.
Through this club, she believes that people without food allergies will at least have a better understanding of what others go through.
"If you don’t have the allergy," Merhi said, "you don’t get it."
Michaela Glynn is a senior at Mount St. Mary Academy.