Thank you for stopping by my blog! It means so much to me that you're here. The reason I share my story is to help inspire and support those living with life-threatening food allergies just like me.
My name is Natalie, and I am a 25-year-old currently living in Los Angeles, California. Throughout my life, I have lived in many places around the world including Southern California, Maryland, Boston, London, Spain, and Israel. I love to travel, and I speak three languages: English, Spanish, and Hebrew.
Growing up, I never had any food allergies. Neither did anyone in my family which consists of my father, my mother and my younger brother. As a child, my favorite foods were desserts and fruits/vegetables (weird I know). I never enjoyed the actual meal - I was the kid that would eat the salad during the meal and then wait for dessert. So what is my relation to food allergies you ask?
At 15 years old, I started reacting to carrots. As I said, I liked to eat vegetables, so I ate them regularly. Until one day, I started coughing. I didn't think twice about it as I didn't even know anything about food allergies. Until it happened again, and again, but this time I couldn't breathe.
So I avoided carrots for the rest of high school, but I told my mom that I refused to go to college until I got an official allergy test. At 17 years old, right before my senior year of high school, I had my first skin test. It showed I was extremely allergic to carrots, cats, and everything in the environment. But besides that, everything else was negative including peanuts, tree nuts, soy and the rest of the top 8 allergens.
I continued through life avoiding carrots; I still ate out, I traveled, I studied abroad, it didn't affect me. But at 20 years old, I had my first official life-threatening allergic reaction to soy milk. It was random, as I had eaten soy throughout my life, but when I ordered a soy latte at Starbucks, my throat swelled up completely, I couldn't breathe, and I ended up going in and out of consciousness.
About 8 months later, I experienced another anaphylactic reaction to soy milk from cross-contamination at a coffee shop, and shortly after I found myself in the hospital due to a life-threatening reaction to peanuts. I had purposely eaten the peanuts as I was never allergic and even had a negative skin test, so I had no way of knowing that my body was now allergic.
During my senior year of college at Northeastern University in Boston, I was able to avoid experiencing life-threatening allergic reactions. I avoided carrots, peanuts and most forms of soy (I still ate soy lecithin) and had no major issues. I should elaborate on the no *major* issues because I did begin to experience small allergic reactions to many fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that were linked to oral allergy syndrome. I was in the care of a great allergist at Mass General Hospital.
My story doesn't end there though, in fact, it only just begins. A few months after graduating college and moving back to Israel, my food allergy condition quickly escalated and it wasn’t only soy, carrots and peanuts anymore. Over a mere few weeks, I went into anaphylaxis from almonds, and then from hazelnuts, and then from peaches. And then my throat started swelling, when I ate onions, oranges, eggs, pepper, paprika, rosemary, garlic, coffee, powdered sugar, and the list went on until I developed IgE mediated life-threatening food allergies to everything but wheat, dairy, grapes, olive oil, and salt. This happened all within three short months.
I found myself not being able to take a bite of food without thinking “Am I going to die?” I starved myself for a week, too scared to experience throat swelling and gasping for air again. The doctors couldn’t figure it out. “You are just an allergic person” they would say. Mast cell was ruled out. My only option was to uproot my whole life and move across the Atlantic Ocean to the other side of the United States for the one and only doctor in the world that can treat me.
As of today, I have not eaten out only once or twice at restaurants for the past three years (including sit down, fast food, coffee shops, etc.). Two years ago, I had 5 safe foods, and over time with treatment, that has expanded to about 30 safe foods.
Instead of enjoying food, trying new foods, making an effort to eat healthy, I have to do my best to ensure that food won’t kill me. It’s a balancing act which I'm sure many of you understand - the thing I need in order to survive is also the thing that could kill me.
I have dedicated my blog to writing about my treatment journey with Dr. Randhawa who founded the Tolerance Induction Program at the SoCal Food Allergy Institute and to sharing tips and advice to those with dealing with food allergies. My end goal is to live like I once did as a child, being able to eat anything whenever I want, without having to worry about gasping for air.