Peanuts are the enemy

Friday, February 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Daily Ardmoreite

HEALDTON, Okla. (AP) -- When Kegan Warrington goes to a birthday party, he won't sit at the table with the other children and enjoy a big forkful of fluffy birthday cake with thick frosting, or spoon up a scoop of rich, tasty ice cream. And when this spunky 21/2-year-old gets old enough to go to a real baseball game, he'll have to skip the peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

Kegan, in his brief life so far, has been plagued with a variety of food allergies, first starting at infancy with milk. Later, as he moved to solid food, his parents discovered their son is allergic to eggs. But nothing prepared them for the life-changing drama of Kegan's allergy to peanuts.

His mother, Julie Warrington, said it has been one challenge after another, learning how to prepare foods at home for her family, omitting the ingredients that will put Kegan into anaphylactic shock -- causing whelps, itching and tingling and which could eventually cut off his breathing if not treated. Everywhere Kegan goes, Warrington carries a vial of EpiPen, an epinephrine auto injector for allergic emergencies.

"He'll break out in hives and we assume his tongue starts tingling because he'll start grabbing it," she said. "It takes about 30 seconds, less than a minute. If he ever starts wheezing or stops breathing, that's what the EpiPen is for."

Since their 5-year-old daughter, Kailee, had a milk allergy early on, Warrington said she and her husband, Wes, were not surprised when Kegan developed the same condition.

"Ever since he was little, he's been allergic to every kind of milk on the market," Warrington said. "Kailee was allergic to milk, but we put her on soy. I was allergic to milk when I was little and they raised me on apple juice."

But the eggs were a different story. No one in the family had ever had a reaction to eggs before, and it took a while for the Warringtons to discover what the problem with Kegan was.

"We first introduced him to foods before he was a year old,"

Warrington said.

"When we had breakfast, we would feed him little bits of egg mashed up, and he started getting splotches on his face.

"At first I thought it was the sausage or the bacon, so we just started eliminating," she said. "One time I would cook just sausage and one time I would cook just bacon and he kept doing it.

Finally I got to thinking it might be the eggs."

At first, Warrington just stopped fixing eggs by themselves, but didn't eliminate them from her other recipes. Kegan continued to break out. An allergy expert told her eggs must be eliminated completely from her son's diet.

"They said the more you totally eliminate the food, the more he'll outgrow it," she said. "But I said, 'How can you not cook with eggs?"'

That question was nearly as difficult to answer as "How can you eat without coming into contact with peanuts?" Making it more difficult, Warrington said Kegan will never outgrow his peanut allergy.

To combat both problems, Warrington constantly carries with her two yellow cards, one listing all the names of ingredients that contain eggs for some form of eggs, the other listing the same for peanuts. The egg card also offers Warrington instructions on how to replace eggs in recipes.

Going to the store has become more than a chore, it's a life-saving mission, as Warrington has to read the ingredients list of everything she buys to make sure it contains none of the products that could harm her son.

"They recommend every time you go to read the labels,"

Warrington said. "One time we bought vanilla wafers and they had eggs in them and the next time we got them, they didn't have eggs in them, because different companies use different ingredients and you have to be careful. And you also have to look at the same product every time you buy it, because sometimes they change the formula."

Warrington said people don't realize how difficult it is to protect her son because, even though she can find products without eggs and peanuts in them, products that don't list peanuts as an ingredient can be cross-contaminated if they were prepared in a plant where peanuts are processed.

"Peanut protein can never be completely washed away," she said. "If you had a dinner of fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes and rolls and he had a reaction and we knew it wasn't cooked with eggs, more than likely that plate had had peanut butter and jelly on it at one time. I was so paranoid at first that I carried a paper plate with me everywhere I went."

Some products, like Little Debbie's snack foods, will list a warning underneath the ingredients list claiming the products were "manufactured on equipment that processes products containing peanuts and other nuts." Others list peanuts among the ingredients, even though there are no peanuts in the product. Ritz Bits with cheese, for example, contains no nuts, but are processed on the same machines that process the version with peanut butter.

That information is certainly helpful to people like Warrington, but she said legally, companies aren't required to list allergy warnings, so she sometimes calls the companies themselves.

"Great Value Animal Crackers are safe because they're not processed in a plant with peanuts, but you have to watch to make sure they don't start putting eggs in them," Warrington said.

"I usually take Kegan's food with him. We have cookies, animal crackers and, if we're going too far away from the house, there's an ice chest in there with lunch meat," she said. "For a snack, he can have vegetables, but he doesn't eat too many vegetables right now. He can eat plain Hershey bars, but only the regular size, not the mini size. The mini ones are processed on peanut belts that process Mr. Goodbars. Kisses are safe, but there's some debate about it."