Maggie-Arnold-smilingWhen Maggie Arnold started preschool, her mom Cheryl sent her off with a little purse full of all the essentials: school supplies, Benadryl and an EpiPen. 

The Arnolds had learned that Maggie had severe allergies to peanuts and other foods when she was just three. Now, Maggie is 16 and is always finding new ways to live well with her allergies. Though they live 2,000 miles from BRI in Southern Illinois, they closely follow our work and are strong believers in our mission.

“When it comes to food allergies, we have a mindset of constant learning,” Cheryl says. “Learn the facts from scientists like those at BRI, use that knowledge to keep moving forward and hope their research leads to better treatments and maybe even cures.” 

A Way of Life

Having severe peanut allergies doesn’t just mean that peanut butter makes you sneeze. Eating even the smallest trace of peanuts can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, where you can lose consciousness and have trouble breathing. 

“I always read labels super closely and never eat at buffets and things like that,” Maggie says. “It's just a way of life.”

For Maggie, being a kid with severe food allergies meant learning to keep her head up when she felt left out, like when she was the only one who couldn’t have cupcakes at birthday parties. 

“You just need to be brave and keep pushing forward,” she says. 

Drawing-by-Maggie ArnoldAs a teenager, food allergies pose different challenges: Bringing your own food to sleepovers, and making sure anyone you date hasn’t eaten peanuts before they go in for a kiss.

But Maggie, who’s now a high school junior, deals with challenges in stride. Sometimes she feels sad or anxious, but drawing always helps her feel better. She’s learned to always be vigilant about her surroundings, and takes steps like wearing long sleeves to the movie theater in case someone sitting there before her was eating peanut M&M’s.

“And when people started all the hand washing and sanitizing during COVID, that was easy,” she says. “I’ve been doing that all along.”  

Hope in Research

Cheryl and Maggie found BRI through reading about peanut allergy research from Erik Wambre, PhD. They’ve followed our blog, Autoimmune Life, and stayed in touch through social media ever since. They’re drawn to BRI because our scientists study the whole immune system, not just one disease. Maggie was recently diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) syndrome. Cheryl’s sister passed away from multiple sclerosis.  

“It makes you wonder: Are these things connected?” Cheryl says. “We believe in BRI because they’re not just looking for better treatments, they’re looking for the reason behind all of these conditions. And once we know that, a cure won’t be far.”

Originally printed in the the Fall issue of the BRIng It On Newsletter

Living With A Disease

September 29, 2020

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