Allergy Advocate

August 08, 2011

What could be worse than having several life threatening allergies? Sitting alone as a kid in the school cafeteria. Find out how Alex Simko got through it.

Meet Alex Simko, an allergy advocate who has had enough. Imagine having to sit all alone in the school cafeteria because of food allergies? More and more schools are trying to force kids with allergies to sit alone at allergy-free tables in the lunchroom. Severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, and as a child, also allergic to beef, corn and eggs, Alex was forced to sit alone. But she didn't let her food allergies get in the way of her self-confidence, and instead took her experiences to another level. She testifies in state assembly, meets with national legislators and is on a mission to help kids with food allergies. 

Food allergies are very serious for many children and adults. What's your number one concern regarding allergies?

Just keeping myself safe and making sure that I don't die from eating a peanut or anything else that I am allergic to.

Tell us about some of the legislation that you have helped to pass. 

The first bill that I started on was in 2007, and it was to put in place a voluntary set of guidelines for kids entering schools with food allergies, because when I entered school they didn't have any guidelines. Nobody had any idea what to do. So this just puts in place guidelines that schools can follow. This was also passed for the national level. And my most recent is where schools can put in place non-prescribed epinephrine injectors. That way in case someone doesn't know they have an allergy or in case they have one and don't have an auto injector with them, if they go into anaphylactic shock, they will be able to use the lifesaving medicine.

Why do you think suddenly food allergies have become so prevalent in the country?

I think people are noticing them more. They are obviously on the rise if you look at the numbers. I think one in 25 Americans has a food allergy. For instance, back in the 70's nobody really knew what it was, and now that we are learning more about it and more people are getting diagnosed, we are noticing it more, and it becomes more of a headline rather than something that goes on in the background. 

What do you hope that all your work will achieve for kids in the future? 

I hope that it will make their lives easier, because when I was just starting school, I didn't have very many friends at all. I just want kids with allergies to be seen as normal and not abnormal like I was. People treated me like I had some kind of disease, and I just don't want that to happen to anyone else, so I work really hard to make sure that kids with allergies safely fit in with the rest of society.

What types of labels do you find helpful on foods when you're shopping?

The food labels that have in bold on the bottom, "may contain," "contains" or "made in a facility with" so and so allergen - those are more helpful than the foods that have it listed in the big paragraph of ingredients. Sometimes they are really hard to read and have different fonts, etc., so having it in bold at the bottom is very helpful.

If you could had a direct voice to every CEO of every food company in this country, what would you tell them that would help you and every kid with food allergies? 

Please just list the ingredients, please use safe manufacturing processes and just do all you can to make sure that kids stay safe, because I know that I've had a reaction from something as minor as just touching an allergen. Imagine if I was to accidentally eat it. I could almost lose my life, and I know that there are a lot of kids who have it worse than I do. I just want to keep them safe. So please list the ingredients, and use safe manufacturing processes, because that makes a world of difference.

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