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'I just want people to take it seriously': Pepper Pike author raises awareness for severe food allergies

In her book 'The One We Left Behind,' Sara Coven aims to educate kids and young adults about the seriousness of severe allergies, and how they can help their peers.

PEPPER PIKE, Ohio — For National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month in May, 3News sat down with an author from Pepper Pike about her book geared towards young adults, which puts a spotlight on severe allergies. 

According to the CDC, one in 13 children have a food allergy, and "more than 40% of children with food allergies in the United States have been treated in the emergency department."

Sara Coven has written a book about a middle schooler who grapples with a severe food allergy, and the ways in which he navigates not only his allergy, but his interactions with classmates, not all of whom are so understanding. 

Inspired by two of her young nephews who have serious food allergies, Coven is hoping her book "The One We Left Behind" raises awareness of serious allergies, and how people can help protect and accept those with allergies. Coven described a family trip in which one of her nephews experienced anaphylaxis after touching a piece of bread which unknowingly had egg in it, a food he is allergic to. 

Out of love for her nephews, Coven began researching all things having to do with allergies, educating herself in the hopes of helping protect her nephews and other kids with allergies, as well as informing others. 

“I really wanted to do something to raise awareness, and I didn't know another way. So I kept writing thinking, 'Well, maybe this will help somebody,'" Coven said of the years-long process of writing her book. "I became determined to publish it because I didn't know how else to really get all of this out there."

Coven said her mission in publishing a book geared towards young adults such as middle schoolers was "to raise awareness about allergies and the emotional and psychological effects, and just bullying and acceptance and tolerance in general." According to Coven, young people with allergies deal not only with potential medical reactions, but oftentimes with social challenges that may come with having an allergy. 

For example, in Coven's book, the character with an allergy is bullied and called names by his peers, who don’t understand why they are no longer able to bring certain snacks into their classroom, and who make fun of the separate lunch table the character must eat at to stay safe. 

"My nephew actually had an experience where somebody thought it was funny to throw a brownie at him," Coven told us, explaining brownies contain ingredients her nephew is severely allergic to. "They were very young and the kid wasn't trying to kill my nephew, but my nephew was really scared, for good reason."

In witnessing her own nephews growing up, Coven described the potential dangers of certain situations, such as birthday parties with shared snacks, restaurants where allergens may not be clear, or confined spaces like planes or buses where someone seated nearby may have a food item that could spark an allergic reaction. 

"I just want people to take it seriously and understand this is someone's life," Coven said. "You might be annoyed that you can't bring peanut butter to school or pack your child peanut butter, but another kid could literally die or get very, very sick. It's not funny, it's not an overreaction."

13-year-old Dylan Oakley and 11-year-old Alex Miller understand firsthand how serious allergies can be: Dylan is allergic to tree nuts, and Alex is allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. Both have had close calls before and carry EpiPens with them, an injected medicine that can help combat severe allergic reactions. 

Dylan remembers her first allergic reaction in kindergarten, when she ate a granola bar that she didn’t realize had pistachios in it. Her mother injected her with her EpiPen, and she was taken to the hospital. 

"If I eat a nut, like a cashew or pistachio, my lips swell up and my throat closes and I can't breathe," Dylan said, "and then that's when the EpiPen comes in and I have to have the medicine."

Alex's first allergic reaction happened when he was a baby, when he came into contact with crumbs from nuts. His mother remembers the terrifying moment, something she describes as a parent's "worst nightmare."

"All of a sudden, his head started going back, and I could tell that his airway was blocked," Maxine Miller recalled. "We called 911, and luckily they came and they gave him Epi. And it was actually so severe, the reaction, that he needed two rounds."

Both Dylan and Alex have supportive, protective friends who look out for them and ensure they're not exposed to anything they're allergic to. While they have a great community surrounding them, they've also felt like the odd ones out at times.

Dylan says when she was younger, she used to be upset when she couldn't eat things her peers were eating, and Alex added he doesn't risk eating treats like birthday cakes at parties. 

"If people actually know about my allergy and they'd be like, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I won't eat this because of you,' I'd feel really safe and I'd be really happy to know that they're protecting me," Alex said. 

Alex and Dylan diligently read labels on everything they eat, and Dylan says her best friends know how to administer her EpiPen, just in case.

“It's not the first thing on most people's minds unless you have a kid with an allergy or you're closely related to somebody with an allergy," Maxine admitted, "but it's something that you're constantly thinking about going into any situation: 'Are there going to be nuts? Is there going to be something that they're exposed to that may or may not harm my child?'"

Both mothers say Coven's book can be a tool to help increase understanding in middle schoolers and teens.

"I think the most important thing about the book is that it's written for adolescents to read," Erin's mom Dylan said. "I was so happy to hear that Dylan's friends could read it, high school kids could read it, because they could really have a lens into what she goes through on a daily basis. And I think that empathy with her friends is really what makes Dylan's life a lot easier."

For more information on Coven's book, click here.

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