When it comes to being terrified of needles, Ella is just like every other 9-year old. Where she does differ to most of her friends is that her severe allergies to a range of foods and animals means that she not only has to carry an epi-pen with her at all times – that needle might very well save her life in an emergency.
It is an irony that is not lost on Ella’s mother, Angela, who says that her daughter’s severe allergies include eggs, nuts, bee and wasp stings, dog saliva, as well as horse and cat hair. In Ella’s case, anaphylaxis can happen with just touching an allergen, not even ingesting it – all she has to do is hold a cashew and within 5 minutes she is fighting for her life.
“With such a broad range of allergies against a lot of things that most of us commonly encounter through our everyday lives it would be easy to wrap Ella in a bubble, but she is an active girl that enjoys a number of outdoor sports so we manage the risks as best we can,” says mum Angela.
“As well as basketball and swimming, Ella is active in athletics and cross country running – so she certainly hasn’t shied away from getting out into nature, and we’ve been very supportive of her every step of the way,” she says.
“We recently decided to get Ella a MedicAlert bracelet because we recognise that as she gets older we cannot be with her every minute of every day, and you never know when an anaphylactic episode might suddenly happen.”
Ella was only about 18 month’s old when Angela discovered that her daughter had life-threatening allergies, and during the testing that followed they found that exposure to several different allergens at any one time posed an even more serious threat.
“I remember introducing egg into her diet and hadn’t even put it into her mouth when she suddenly broke out with welts on her face because it had just touched her skin – thankfully she hadn’t ingested any of it,” Angela says.
That first anaphylactic reaction was to be followed by another 7 episodes in the years that followed.
“I remember one morning going to the park before school, and Ella must have come in contact with an allergen because she suddenly had trouble breathing. I was only four blocks away from Geelong Hospital and was rushing to get her there when I knew that she was not going to make it, so I had to pull over and use an epi-pen on her,” she says.
It was the launch the MedicAlert Foundation’s Schools Program that prompted Angela to make Ella a member.
“The MedicAlert School’s Program is a great initiative because it doesn’t just help to raise funds for the school, but also assist teachers to quickly identify a child’s medical needs and take the right steps - especially when that child may not be able to speak and let them know what is wrong,” Angela says.
“Everyone at Ella’s school has been terrific and we have spoken with the school about her condition and helped to develop management plans should something happen. The school has responded really well, and in addition to removing trees that are known to attract bees, they have also supplied a bike for a teacher at school sporting events or cross country run to ensure a rapid response,” she says.
Ella wears one of MedicAlert’s versatile sports bands and has found that it doesn’t impact on any of her sporting pursuits – and has in fact been granted special permission to wear it on court while playing basketball.
“Her bracelet provides peace of mind, and means we don’t have to worry as much over the little things like her riding a bike up and down the road, because we know if something happens and her throat closes over during an anaphylaxis that her MedicAlert emblem will speak on her behalf,” Angela says.
“While you could never put a price on her life, making Ella a MedicAlert member and getting her a bracelet has been a good investment, and I would strongly encourage other parents who have children with similar conditions to do the same.”