By Gary Fitzgerald
“Let’s break!” the director calls out on the set of “Girl Meets World.”
Auggie Maturo, 7, heads backstage, passing by a table of snacks for actors and the TV crew, and finds his mom, Maha. He retrieves the homemade lunch she keeps for him – it’s free of peanut, tree nuts, sesame and coconut, his food allergens – and hurries back to his friends.
It’s an ordinary scene, but a necessary one for Auggie. He was diagnosed with food allergies at the age of 3 after he had a severe allergic reaction – anaphylaxis – to eating a cashew.
“I started choking and gagging, my lips swelled, and I vomited,” Auggie recalls. “It was very scary. We rushed to the ER where I was given epinephrine. Later I met with an allergist who diagnosed me.”
Now a fourth-grader with a budding acting career in Hollywood, Auggie is starting to gain a bit more independence from his parents. That means there are many discussions in the Maturo household about monitoring what foods he eats and understanding what to do in an anaphylaxis emergency.
The family partnered with Mylan Specialty L.P. to launch EpiPen® on Location™, an educational campaign to raise awareness of life-threatening allergies and encourage people to understand the importance of avoiding allergy triggers and always carrying two epinephrine auto-injectors. As part of the campaign, the Maturos created a video to share their personal story about living with food allergies. Watch the video and learn more at www.EpiPenOnLocation.com.
Auggie and Maha recently sat down for a telephone interview with Allergy & Asthma Network:
Q: Has Auggie had any allergic reactions that required emergency treatment?
Maha: When Auggie was 4, we were at a birthday party and he ate ice cream that was cross-contaminated with other ice cream that had nuts in it. I had an EpiPen with me, but I hesitated to use it. We rushed Auggie to the ER where he was treated with epinephrine. A short time later, he was fine.
That’s where the doctor really educated us about how to properly respond to an anaphylaxis emergency. The doctor explained, ‘Don’t ever be afraid to use the EpiPen. Epinephrine can’t hurt your child. Don’t drive him to the hospital — administer the EpiPen and call 911.’ That’s what we put down in Auggie’s Anaphylaxis Action Plan.
Q: Why did you hesitate?
Maha: It’s a needle, and you have to put the needle into your child’s thigh – I was afraid. I was afraid I would do it wrong. I was afraid I would hurt him. At the time I wasn’t sure what was happening because I thought we had done so well avoiding his allergy triggers at the birthday party, yet he was having this anaphylactic reaction. I was questioning why it was happening. But I was really just afraid. It was something I knew I had to overcome.
Q: How do you communicate to Auggie the seriousness of his food allergies?
Maha: We talk with Auggie all the time – and when we go to the allergist we make sure that he is part of the conversation and fully understands what the allergist is saying. Managing food allergies is something we do as a family and kids are pretty smart if you take the time to educate them.
Q: What is it like managing food allergies on the set of a television show? Are there any unique challenges?
Maha: If a scene calls for Auggie to eat something, we meet with the props department a week ahead of time. We work together to make sure that it’s something that Auggie can eat. We tell them specific brands to use and they provide them. They are really fantastic and supportive on the show.
Q: Is the presence of food common around the set or backstage?
Maha: Yes it is. And I know people aren’t going to have the same diligence as I do about reading ingredients and making sure foods don’t contain Auggie’s allergic triggers, so we make sure to pack his favorite foods every day and bring them to the set.
Q: While you are on the set, where do you keep your epinephrine auto-injectors?
Maha: I keep his EpiPens with me. They’re always within reach. Auggie is just starting to transition to the point where we feel comfortable with him carrying them on his own. But when he’s on the set, I am always around, so it’s convenient for me to carry them.
Q: Auggie, are there times when you might feel a little left out because of your food allergies?
Auggie Maturo: I talk with my friends about my food allergies and they are all really supportive. I always pack my snacks, so I don’t feel left out during mealtimes.
Q: Auggie, what are some ways you’re learning to manage food allergies?
Auggie: My mom is teaching me to read food labels, and the older I get the more confident I become. If I’m not sure about what ingredients are in a food or if it has no label, I don’t eat it. It’s not worth the risk. My Anaphylaxis Action Plan includes: 1) avoid my allergy triggers; 2) know the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis; 3) always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors, because about 20 percent of people who experience anaphylaxis will need a second dose; and 4) call 911 immediately and seek emergency medical care.
Q: Maha, what advice would you give to parents who are learning to manage their child’s food allergies?
Maha: What worked for us is, we developed a routine of foods that we buy, as well as restaurants that we eat at – places that we know are safe. If we are going to a new restaurant, I call ahead to make sure there are options for Auggie to eat. Once we’re there, we ask to talk to the chef about preparing Auggie’s food. We don’t want to leave anything to chance.
If we are going to a birthday party or an event where we know there are treats, I always pack Auggie’s allergy-safe cookies, so if he wants a treat when everybody else is eating theirs, he doesn’t feel left out and gets his own treat that he loves.
At home, Auggie helps cook his meals and treats – he makes his own muffins, for example. It makes managing food allergies fun.
Q: Auggie, what is your No. 1 message to other kids with food allergies?
Auggie: Always check with your parents before you eat something and keep your EpiPen two-pack with you at all times.