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She said the family, including Harris’ three younger siblings, has always taken “a village approach” to helping him manage his allergies.
“We made sure everyone we knew was informed on what works for him, but we never separated him in the cafeteria,” Dirnberger said, noting that Harris was the first child in his elementary school with a food allergy. “Our Number 1 job has always been to keep him safe, but in the real world, he wouldn’t be sitting at a lunch table by himself.”
Over the years Harris has taken more personal responsibility for his food allergies. He always carries an epinephrine (or EpiPen) with him. The boy who once resisted summer camp because of his allergies (his mom spent the week as a camp volunteer to help in the kitchen and read labels) now travels frequently with a Nordic ski club and doesn’t hesitate to head into a restaurant kitchen to quiz the chef about the ingredients in a menu item.
“I’m sure Harris wishes he could spend a day not worrying about what he has to eat, but he’s not the kind of kid who is going to dwell on missing out on things,” Dirnberger said. “However, it’s a life-and-death situation — kids with food allergies have to grow up faster than other kids. It’s their reality.”
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.
The Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota offers an e-newsletter, online discussion boards, special family events and an annual Food Allergy Resource Fair. For more information, visit www.foodallergysupport mn.org.