In 2005, Jodi Stokes got one of the biggest scares of her life when she gave her 1-year-old son his first cracker with peanut butter.
Red welts appeared on his arms. His eyes swelled shut. And his lips blew up to three times normal size.
She called 911, and in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, paramedics stopped Kevin’s anaphylactic shock with a shot of epinephrine.
Later, through the Internet, Stokes met three other mothers of kids with allergies, and they started a support group called Parents of Allergic Kids. In 10 years, it has grown to more than 800 families whose children have life-threatening food, venom and latex allergies.
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They’re celebrating this milestone with a free PAK 10-Year Anniversary Education Symposium & Carnival from 1 to 5 p.m. April 30 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.
There will be educational sessions, such as “Food Allergy 101” and “Science of Food Allergies.” Two Charlotte dieticians will talk about healthy eating. Representatives will be present from every group of local allergy specialists – AAIR of Charlotte, Allergy & Asthma Care of Blakeney, Allergy & Asthma Center of Lake Norman, Asthma & Allergy Specialists, Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center, Charlotte Medical Clinic – Allergy and Immunology, and Family Allergy Asthma & Sinus Care.
Also, there will be two special guest speakers – Dr. Edwin Kim, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at UNC Chapel Hill; and Lynn Heun from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in McLean, Va. (See www.PAKcharlotte.org for the full schedule.)
As co-founder and president, Stokes works with four co-leaders Christine Hardy, Randi Eccleston, Carrie Merner and Jennifer Youse.
In recent years, they have advocated for having a school nurse in each of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s schools, and they worked with legislators to get a law passed requiring all K-12 schools to keep epinephrine auto-injectors, such as EpiPens, on hand.
Most children in the Charlotte support group have allergies to foods, such as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat and sesame, Stokes said. So many of the group meetings or the Facebook chats involve sharing recipes and opinions about restaurants, schools and pharmacies that accommodate those with allergies.
Today, Stokes’ son Kevin is 11, and he carries his own EpiPen in case he’s exposed to peanuts. He’s also part of the group’s Tween-Teen Council, where he helps younger kids manage their allergies, just as he learned from older kids how to manage his.
“He’s taking control over his food allergy,” Stokes said. “He’s a changed young man. When he helps out the younger kids at our events, he’s benefiting and the kids are benefiting. They get to see other kids with allergies, and they don’t feel so alone.”