Published: Sep 22, 2012 04:00 PM
Modified: Sep 22, 2012 04:12 PM
Aven Crochet has been studying food labels since she learned how to read. The seventh-grader at East Cary Middle School has to make sure the foods she eats dont contain peanuts ingesting even a speck of a peanut could send her body into anaphylactic shock.
She has carried epinephrine auto-injectors and Benadryl around with her since kindergarten, potential life-savers in case she accidentally eats something that contains peanuts.
For Aven and other kids with food allergies, this is serious business.
Its not OK to treat the severe allergy that can kill you like a joke, said Aven, 13.
This month, Aven will serve as honorary youth chair for the Triangle Area Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network Walk for Food Allergy in Cary. She hopes the event, and her role in it, will help raise awareness so more people will take the condition seriously.
Aven said her responsibility for her own safety also means she must educate others. She taught her friends how to administer an EpiPen and often explains to classmates and teachers why it is dangerous to give out candy in the classroom or eat a peanut butter sandwich near her.
Starting middle school last year wasnt easy. Aven said kids called her a freak because she carries a pouch to hold her medication. Once, she said, a group of kids grabbed the pouch and tossed it around until a teacher intervened.
It is easy to get frustrated, depressed, or mad about food allergies, especially at Avens age when being different about anything can be difficult, said Jennifer Pickus, chairwoman of the walk. But Aven is very well-spoken about her allergies and doesnt let them stop her from being true to herself.
Avens favorite way to deal with the stress of her allergy is to go horseback riding.
When I'm on a horse, I dont feel like I have an allergy, she said. Rise in food allergies
In preschool, Aven got red blotches on her face, along with swollen eyes and lips, after she touched a peanut-filled snack. Her diagnosis came months later, after she had a reaction to a sip of a peanut butter milkshake.
Today, nearly 15 million people have food allergies, including 6 million children, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.
Between 1997 and 2007, there was about an 18 percent increase in food allergies, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in 2008.
The local food-allergy awareness walk also has grown. Organizers expect more than 400 participants and hope to raise more than $40,000 to help with education and research, Pickus said.
Some of that research affects Aven on a daily basis. She is taking part in a peanut sublingual immunotherapy study through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Every morning, Aven puts eight drops of peanut extract under her tongue for two minutes. Researchers test her tolerance to the extract every six months.
The drops taste awful, Aven said, but she hopes they will eventually weaken her allergy so maybe someday she wont have to worry about being in a room where someone is eating peanut butter.
Shes so independent and always has been, said Avens father, Brad Crochet. In some ways, it makes us feel better about it because we know shes well-educated about her allergy and she understands it. Positive outlook
Aven is conscientious about her allergy, but she doesnt let it inhibit her life. Whether shes dreaming of Olympic glory in horseback riding, baking cupcakes, cooking new recipes with her dad or hanging out with friends, Aven doesnt let her allergies stop her.
You dont have to see allergies as a disadvantage, she said. All allergies can be extremely hard to live with, but we have to learn to cope with it, and we can still have a life with an allergy.
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