STANFORD (KPIX 5) — The rate of food allergies is skyrocketing, with 5 million children now having more than one. An experiment by a doctor at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital helped a Bay Area girl who suffered from a dozen food allergies.
Tessa Grosso is 10-years-old. Since she was small, Tessa’s mom Kim Yates Grosso has fought to keep her daughter safe from those allergies.
“You literally walk through life like you’re navigating a mine field,” said Mrs. Grosso.
For years, Tessa has suffered severe allergies to food such as wheat, eggs, nuts and shellfish. Spilled milk meant danger.
“She had milk spilled on her hands, and she almost died,” said Mrs. Grosso.
“It was really hard because I couldn’t go to birthday parties or have playdates,” explained Tessa.
Then the Menlo Park family found hope in Dr. Kari Nadeau at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. The allergy researcher started clinical trials on 80 patients in 2011.
Nadeau is believed to be the first doctor to help people tolerate up to five food allergies all at once.
Patients first eat tiny amounts of each allergen in flour or powder form. Nadeau gradually increases the dosage until the patients can tolerate a full serving over a number of years.
Because Tessa also took Xolair, a drug that suppresses allergic reactions, she completed the trial in only four months.
Doctors call Tessa the world’s first person to be desensitized to several allergies at the same time.
“In general we are excited this will potentially be a breakthrough, but it needs to be tested further,” Nadeau said.
One in 13 American children has food allergies and a third of them react to more than one food. Nadeau does not know why, but she suspects a genetic and environmental interaction.
“We think that tobacco smoke or pollutants or diet may affect people who already have a predisposition for food allergies,” Nadeau explained.
Tessa must eat a serving of dairy, wheat, egg, peanut and almond every day to maintain her immunity to those foods. For eggs, she mixes powder into ice cream or milk.
Since completing the clinical trial last year, Tessa has tried her first store bought cake and ice cream. The fourth grader still carries her life-saving epinephrine pen in case of emergency. But life feels more relaxed.
“I can just have fun and play with everyone else and not be worried,” said Tessa.
“It’s an emancipation. You get to go live your life,” said her mom.
The Grosso family hopes Nadeau’s research will grant other children the same taste of freedom.
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