It is estimated that a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room every three minutes.
Severe food allergies are often misunderstood, and people who have them can feel like every day is a calculated risk, especially when eating out.
A popular Cleveland restaurant is helping to raise awareness about an important campaign to save lives.
"It is physician-driven, evidence-based information," said Mike Suhy.
Food allergy awareness is deeply personal to Suhy, who is a veteran firefighter-paramedic and current chief of the Cuyahoga Heights Fire Department.
In 2017, his daughter Allison died from a severe nut allergy during her freshman year at Ohio University.
"She wanted to be a teacher," he said. "She wanted to help people. So, we’re going to carry that on by helping people."
Mike and his wife started the Allison Rose Foundation in her honor.
They fundraise to provide epinephrine auto-injectors, or EpiPens, free of charge to schools, along with education and training to students and staff.
North Olmsted City Schools recently trained its entire staff.
"It breaks my heart that a tragedy had to happen for something like this to start, but so much good is being done and so many additional lives are being saved because of the work they’re doing," said Brent Monnin, principal at Chestnut Intermediate School.
Food allergies affect one in 10 adults and one in 13 children. They are different from a food intolerance, in that they cause an immune system response that can trigger a fast and potentially deadly condition called anaphylaxis.
Epinephrine, or adrenaline, is the first line of treatment for this kind of severe allergic reaction and can save lives.
"We only have them in our possession if they’re brought in by a parent for their particular child," said Monnin. "So, this changes the game."
The Allison Rose Foundation, with its team of experts, will work with school districts to get as many EpiPens as they need for free.
"We did Rocco’s alma mater, Mentor," said Mike. "Twenty-five-hundred kids in one month. We got them all trained and all their staff, K through 12, eight buildings. So anything is possible."
He is talking about celebrated Cleveland chef and restaurateur, Rocco Whalen.
"This just checked so many boxes for me and my wife that it was a no-brainer," said Whalen.
Whalen is the first to bring this now into restaurants.
His iconic Tremont spot, Fahrenheit, now proudly displays an official Allison Rose Foundation window sticker stating: This establishment is food allergy trained and equipped with stock epinephrine.
"This could save a life," Whalen said.
Whalen says he wants to use his platform to encourage more restaurants to do the same. Cordelia on East 4th Street in Cleveland has also now gone through the training and received the stock EpiPens.
"I look at it like this: What beautiful people we have running this organization," said Whalen. "Michael and Rebecca Suhy could’ve just continued the mourning process for their daughter and lived on with their life, but instead they decided to make real change. Last I checked this place right now where we’re living in today’s society could use a lot of good, real change, and that’s what I’m all about.”
There has been much talk recently about making more AEDs available for people during a cardiac emergency, which is great says Suhy, and he believes EpiPens should be just as readily available and accessible.
He says he wants to reach as many schools, universities, businesses and restaurants as possible, and wants people to know the education, training, and EpiPens provided through the Allison Rose Foundation are free.
"I don’t want another family to go through what mine did," said Suhy. "That is something that can be avoided. The science has changed. We want to get the message out there: Epinephrine, epinephrine, epinephrine. We want to provide it for them to have it and be able to use it because, I say it every time I speak, if this information was around Allison would still be here. So, I think everyone needs to know.”
To learn more about the Allison Rose Foundation, click here.
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