Sarah’s Story: Anaphylaxis, MedicAlert and Marathons

I had my first anaphylactic shock reaction in 1989, a couple months before my 9th birthday. I arrived at the hospital in time to receive epinephrine and thankfully I survived. Allergy tests would reveal food allergies. I was allergic to all seafood and fish, though I’d eaten them without incident nearly every week for my entire life up to that point.

My second anaphylactic reaction was to chicken when I was 10. Again, I arrived at the hospital quickly, and epinephrine again saved my life. I went to the allergist again for more tests and found I had to add poultry and tree nuts to my allergy list. It was at this allergist visit that my mom was given a MedicAlert brochure. She signed me up immediately, and my first bracelet soon came in the mail.

A childhood with life-threatening food allergies

I was teased some at school for wearing my MedicAlert ID. In 1990 food allergies weren’t that common, and the only people I saw with MedicAlert bracelets were of my grandparents’ generation. Kids said I was a grandma/grandpa, but I kept wearing my “grandma” bracelet because my mom said I couldn’t take it off!

I had another anaphylactic reaction when I was 11 while at a youth group BBQ. I inadvertently had a bite of a turkey hot dog. My youth pastor rushed me to the hospital, and epinephrine saved my life yet again. Doctors used the info on my MedicAlert bracelet to contact my parents and allergist.

A lot of people don’t know that an anaphylactic reaction always requires an emergency room visit. Without the proper treatment, anaphylaxis can turn deadly in a little as 15 minutes. Even if you receive epinephrine right away, you still need to be observed by medical professionals to ensure you recover completely.

“I’ll be a MedicAlert member for the rest of my life. MedicAlert means I can live the life I want to live. A full life. A life I love.”

Sarah, MedicAlert member since 1990

After multiple episodes of anaphylactic shock, I finally started carrying an Epi-Pen so I could inject myself with epinephrine if I was exposed to an allergen. At first, my junior high wouldn’t allow me to carry it in my backpack. Because it was a controlled substance, they said I had to keep it in the office. My school campus was huge; I could die of anaphylactic shock before I made it all the way to the office! My parents stood up for me by petitioning the school board, and the board granted me permission to keep my Epi-Pen in my backpack.

Since then, I’ve added many more foods to my “death” list. Currently, there are 22 foods/food groups I can’t eat. The risk is that I could go into anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if not treated immediately. Fortunately, I can now eat shrimp and salmon after successfully completing food challenges!

31 years with food allergies and MedicAlert

I’m now 39 years old (I’ll be 40 this year!). I’ve had life threatening food allergies for 31 years. I’ve survived anaphylactic shock many times, and a MedicAlert bracelet has been with me nearly every day since I was 10. I chose not to wear it on my wedding day, and I had difficulty wearing it while I was pregnant. Other than that, I always have it on. I feel safer having it on my wrist, and my family feels more at ease knowing it’s on my wrist.

I’m a 5-time marathoner and 14-time half marathoner. A MedicAlert bracelet has been on my wrist every time I crossed the finish line. My favorite marathon is the Surfer’s Path Marathon in Santa Cruz, CA. The course hugs the coast and there are gorgeous views to look at for almost all of the 26.2 mile race.

My most memorable race was the 2019 Surfer’s Path Marathon. The forecast called for electrical storms and overall unpleasant weather. I was nervous I’d be miserable for the whole race. For the first 10 miles there was torrential rain, hail, lightning, and thunder. Then the sun made an appearance over the Pacific Ocean and I was determined to do my best. Even with all the crazy weather, I managed to earn a PR (personal record)!

My husband and daughter feel more at ease when I go out for a race or training run knowing MedicAlert will help protect me, and notify them in an emergency.

Educating the next generation on food allergies and anaphylaxis

I’ve been a primary teacher for 16 years (most of my experience is in kindergarten and first grade). At the beginning of each new school year, I share my story with my students, including my bracelet and Epi-Pen, and explain what to do in case of a severe allergic reaction. Throughout the year, they remind me to get my “medicine” when we walk out to recess! But it’s a great way to educate them about food allergies and what to do in an anaphylactic emergency. It helps them understand that anyone can have food allergies, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I show them that with the right precautions (like MedicAlert) they can live a normal, active life.

I’ll be a MedicAlert member for the rest of my life. MedicAlert means I can live the life I want to live. A full life. A life I love. I love my MedicAlert bracelet!

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