- Doctor pioneered treatment for food allergies called oral immunotherapy
- Treatment available in Oklahoma for three years
- Doctors trying understand food allergies and find ways to build tolerance
- Treatment exposes to patients to the allergen to desensitize it for them
Anaphylaxis reactions kill 175 people a year, but one doctor is hoping to stop those deaths.
Dr. Love works with families in Green Country to try an experimental treatment for food allergies called Oral Immunotherapy.
The treatment exposes patients to their allergen in small amounts to help bodies develop a tolerance and prevent allergic reactions.
One wrong move nearly killed an 18-month-old from Jenks, and it's a fear countless parents face.
They worry a snack at school or a treat at a birthday party could kill their child with food allergies.
FOX23’s Michelle Linn found out about an experimental treatment used in Green Country and sat down with the doctor who brought it to Oklahoma.
“I was in no way prepared, I couldn't even inject the epinephrine into her thigh, my husband had to do it,” said Sarah Lorenzen, a Jenks mother.
Lorenzen's daughter went into anaphylactic shock when something she'd eaten was cross-contaminate by a peanut.
“It's not something you make up, it's not you get diarrhea, it's not you break out in a hive, you stop breathing and you could die,” she said.
“All of a sudden his entire body swelled and his breathing was very labored, and he couldn't breathe and basically we had a paramedic that got some IV meds in very quickly and saved his life,” said Katie Franco, a mother.
Franco didn't even know her 2-and-a-half year old son, Asher, was allergic to tree nuts. In December, he had a tiny piece of cashew and his throat swelled shut.
Now sending him to preschool requires a lot of trust.
“It's life or death,” she said.
One accidental move could send him to the hospital again.
“(It’s) a lot more scary when you send them to school because you never really know what's going to happen,” said Dr. James Love.
Love pioneered a bold new treatment called oral immunotherapy.
“We take children who have life-threatening food allergies, and by introducing microscopic amounts of that food initially and gradually increasing it over a period of several months, we train their bodies to learn to accept that particular food,” he said.
Love brought the treatment to Oklahoma three years ago. He described the treatment to FOX23.
He said the first day is a long one. It's up to eight hours in the clinic.
Love and his nurses mix a tiny amount of peanut, ground into a powder, with distilled water.
“No eye balling, we have to have exact numbers, we don't want any of the mixture to be off,” said his nurse, Laura.
It's so diluted, there's just a tiny trace of peanut at first. They start an IV just in case there's a severe reaction and closely monitor the child, while gradually exposing them to a more concentrated amount, every 15 minutes.
Then they send the child home where the parents give the mixture with a syringe twice a day.
“Every week they come back and we give them a stronger dose, watch them for an hour, then send them home on that stronger dose twice a day, until after three or four months they're able to eat a peanut, which is pretty scary for them, it's another big psychological step, but it's an awesome one,” said Love.
Eventually, the child works up to 8 peanuts and at the very end: 24 peanuts.
After that, maintenance is necessary. The child they must eat 8 peanuts every day to stay desensitized to the allergen.
Love said one family moved here from Florida so their child could get this treatment and other families drive weekly from out of state.
FOX23 met one family making long weekly drives to see Love.
Every Friday, Konner Collinson and his mom travel five hours round trip, from Kaw City.
“(I) had to go to the hospital, and have all kind of IVs and stuff,” said Collinson.
A trace of a peanut sent him into anaphylactic shock as a toddler. He successfully completed treatment for peanut allergies and now the 7-year-old is working to desensitize to tree nuts by eating cashews.
His mom admits they were nervous about starting oral immunotherapy two and a half years ago.
“Yeah, I’m a nurse, so yeah,” said his mother, Crystalyn.
66 patients have completed the treatment, and right now they have 11 in the process.
“Have they had any reactions that have been scary in the clinic?” Linn asked.
“Oh yeah, and they've had some scary reactions at home, so it's not without risk,” said Love.
There are some doctors who say it hasn't been studied enough, or the research is inconclusive.
FOX23 researched the treatment. The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases says this treatment isn't FDA-approved and is experimental.
That agency is funding several studies.
Love said it's working, and it's changing lives.
Right now Love is using oral immunotherapy for patients with peanut, tree nut, egg, milk and wheat allergies and he is considering treating shellfish allergies, down the road.
The treatment is covered by some health insurance plans, and it's not just for kids. He treats adults, as well.
Love said 175 people die of anaphylaxis each year, and most are young adults. He also said oral immunotherapy isn't something you should experiment with at home. It should only be done under a doctor's supervision.
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