CHARLOTTE, N.C. - People with severe allergies to foods like peanuts must watch everything they eat or face the possibility of a life-threatening reaction. But, a new breakthrough treatment has local families lining up on wait lists.
Eight-year-old Bella Rodono's mother Katie Rodono discovered Bella was allergic to peanuts when she was only a year old.
"She started getting red patches on her face, you could tell it irritated her and it was itchy," Rodono said.
Rodono said for years, she and her family avoided peanuts at all costs.
"It was scary for us," Rodono said. "We had to check every label, every single time. Birthday parties, we would have to check to see where the cake was made."
Dr. Vandana Patel, an allergy specialist, has been treating Bella since she was two years old and said she was an ideal candidate for a breakthrough treatment that could lessen, even potentially eliminate her peanut allergy.
It is called oral immunotherapy, or OIT, which trains the immune system over time to tolerate small amounts of the allergenic protein.
Doctors give the patient tiny fractions of a peanut, starting with 1/100th, to test how much they can tolerate without a reaction.
A week later, they double the dose, gradually increasing it. But, the treatment has to be done under a doctor's care because it can have serious complications.
"It was a very small amount of peanut, 10 milligrams and her throat started to close in the doctor's office and that was the first time we ever had to give her an EpiPen and it was terrifying," Rodono said.
Bella's doctors said they were prepared for that reaction and treated her the right way.
Every day, Rodono gave her daughter a dose of peanuts at home.
Bella is now what doctors call "bite proof," meaning for her, peanuts no longer carry the threat of a life-threatening reaction.
Rodono said last October, Bella was able to tolerate eight peanuts without any reaction.
Food Allergy Oral Immunotherapy is not FDA approved yet, but Dr. Patel said families are already lining up for it.
"We have a huge waitlist," Dr. Patel said. "That is the hardest thing. Being able to provide good care, not being able to help people fast enough, but doing it safely."
Rodono said the treatment gave Bella more freedom to be a kid and gave her and her husband more peace of mind.
"It is worth it, it is, 100 percent worth it," Rodono said. "It changed her life. It changed all of our lives."
To maintain the ability to tolerate the food allergen, patients must continue to eat it every day. Dr Patel said this therapy can be used to help patients with other food allergies like shellfish or milk.
Also, Dr. Patel's office has been billing patients' insurance for the treatment and they said so far, they have not had any issues.
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