Food Allergies: One Family’s Story


Rocco Wentworth, son of John and Jennifer Wentworth, is your typical six-year-old boy. He attends kindergarten at St. John’s in Fenton. He plays hockey, basketball and soccer. “He’s wild and full of energy,” says his father with a smile. “But he’s also very compassionate and loving to his little sister.” Rocco loves to swim and just recently started playing tennis, which he seems to have a knack for. And of course, much like any other six-year-old, he loves to play video games.

Life is good for the Wentworth family; but their lives took a dramatic turn when they discovered Rocco suffers from food allergies – peanuts, all tree nuts, green peas, sesame seeds and some soy products. According to his mother, Rocco had many reflux and digestive issues as an infant. When he was just over a year old, Jennifer was eating a peanut butter sandwich and gave her son a taste of it. After eating the peanut butter, Rocco broke out in hives and had some facial swelling. He began vomiting and had trouble breathing. “That was his first reaction,” Jennifer remembers. The worried parents took their son to the emergency room, which is where they received the diagnosis. They took him to an allergy specialist in Ann Arbor, where he still goes twice a year for continued evaluations.


Photography by Paul Retherford

Dealing with a child who has food allergies can be quite challenging for parents. Rocco carries an EpiPen® with him in case he has a severe allergic reaction. The automatic injection device administers epinephrine. “It opens up the airway so he can breathe,” says John. “He has one with him at all times.” The biggest challenge for Jennifer and John when dealing with Rocco’s allergies is avoiding cross-contamination. An example of this occurred during a recent family vacation in Florida. There were no nuts in the house, but as Rocco was eating toast and jelly, he began showing symptoms of an allergic reaction, developing a blister on his cheek. Apparently, a knife that had peanut butter on it had been used in the jelly jar. “It’s the cross-contamination that is so scary,” says John. According to Jennifer, Rocco is very sensitive. “Even just touching it causes him to have a reaction.”

School is another issue altogether. The Wentworths are very lucky that St. John’s is a “peanut-safe” facility and the school is very gracious about working with Rocco’s allergies. Jennifer eats lunch with her son at school every day, because it helps her worry a little bit less. However, some people are not quite as compassionate about dealing with a child’s food allergy and view it as an annoyance rather than a serious medical problem. Jennifer was a teacher, and though she never had a student with a food allergy, she really didn’t know how serious it is until it became her own personal experience. “Until you deal with it, you just don’t understand it,” she says. Rocco’s schoolmates are very careful about his food allergies and are always asking, Can I eat this around Rocco? “His peers are great about it,” his mother adds.

The responsibility of dealing with a food allergy can be very expensive. The Wentworths have spent thousands of dollars on EpiPens. Insurance covers some of the cost, but that can range from $350 to $600, according to Jennifer, depending on whether there are any coupons. There are also many limitations as to what Rocco can eat, especially at a restaurant. He can only have a certain kind of bread. “Everything he eats is thought about very carefully,” says John.

Traveling and going to public outings presents some challenges. “We can’t go to Comerica Park and watch a Tigers game,” says Jennifer. The family also only travels with Delta Airlines as they are the only airline that is peanut safe if a person with the allergy is on the plane. “They request that other passengers don’t eat peanuts and they don’t serve them,” John says. He also said the airline allows the family to board early and makes sure to wipe down the seats. But visiting Disney World was a good experience for the Wentworths. “Disney World is totally aware of what needs to be done.”

What advice does John have for parents of children who suffer from food allergies? “Make the changes necessary to keep your child safe,” says John. “Always carry an EpiPen. We’ve learned by trial and error.” Since the first reaction, Rocco has been to the ER about five or six times because of his allergies. “The first reaction he had was the most profound,” says John. “He was in trouble, and we were not equipped to deal with it.”

“It affects so many things; we never stop worrying about it,” says Jennifer, “but we’re prepared now.”

Data About Serious Food Allergies

  • Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies.
  • This potentially deadly disease affects one in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That’s roughly two students in every classroom.
  • The economic cost of children’s food allergies is nearly $25 billion per year.
  • According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
  • The number of people who have a food allergy is growing, but there is no clear answer as to why.
  • Researchers are trying to discover why food allergies are on the rise in developed countries worldwide, and to learn more about the impact of the disease in developing nations.
  • Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department – that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year.
  • Teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis.

Source: Food Allergy Research & Education

Photography by Paul Retherford


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