Near-miss mum's allergic book

First published in News

A MOTHER who watched as her son nearly died from severe allergic shock has written a book to tell parents how to cope with their children's allergies.

Alice Willitts, 36, from Oak Tree Road had no idea that her son Zachary, now six, was allergic to eggs.

On Easter Sunday 2002 she was enjoying lunch in London with the family of husband Martin. Meringue was for dessert, and eight-month-old Zac ate some of the sticky treat.

Alice said: "He just went red and started rubbing his eyes furiously. His eyes were swollen shut, and his mouth was turning blue."

The couple had no idea that Zac had any allergies. Alice had heard about allergic reactions before, and was worried that Zac's throat would swell up and stop him from breathing.

However, she was unaware of one of the biggest dangers of a severe allergic reaction. Blood pressure drops, and vital organs may not have enough to supply them with oxygen in order to function properly.

Alice said: He went really, really floppy and he was dropping in and out of consciousness.

We didn't call an ambulance because I didn't know how serious it was and what we were dealing with.'' After a while, Zac started to get better, though he was still red and swollen and in some distress. Alice and Martin were able to drive him back home.

However, when they got their he began to have a second phase' reaction, although this was less serious. Alice put him into a bath with bicarbonate of soda to ease the swelling and hives.

At length, Alice was able to put him to bed. However, she was deeply troubled about leaving her son: I started thinking, What if I leave him in bed and he stops breathing?'", she said.

Alice took him to hospital, where doctors were able to diagnose Zac's condition and treat him.

Since his first attack, Zac's family have helped him to monitor his diet so carefully that in six years he has only had one more attack.

One of the most important things is making sure that he is safe to go to school and be around pupils who are eating eggs.

To this end, she has set up a group of allergy buddies' at his school. Ten children come into school with egg-free lunches and sit together at lunch time. This has the advantage of allowing Zac to take part in all the social aspects of school without risking an attack.

Alice said that she was amazed how helpful the other parents had been: I couldn't believe how many people would put themselves out for someone they didn't know.'' If they eat in a restaurant, Alice will make sure that she gets there ahead of time to talk to the chef. Also, she will chat with other parents before birthday parties to make sure that Zac will be safe, and has even gone as far as baking an egg-free cake to take along.

She has two other children, Theo, aged four, and Jude, aged one. Jude is allergic to dairy products.

Alice has written a book giving advice to parents in a similar situation. The book, Food Allergy & Your Child: A Practical Guide for Parents', is designed to be accessible, with advice given without jargon or too much medical data. It was co-written with Henley resident Deborah Carter, whose 13-year-old son also suffers allergies.

The pair will be talking at The Allergy Show at the London Olympia on June 15.

A Marlow support group has been set up to give advice to parents whose children have allergies. Its website can be found at www.foodallergymums.com.

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