Thankfully there aren’t too many babies with a life-threatening allergy to their own mother’s milk, but for NSW man Kurt Byers a severe dairy allergy has meant that he has to grow up avoiding all types of milk and dairy products or risk having an anaphylaxis reaction.
The 35-year old, who works in the healthcare industry, says he has grown used to the daily threat of anaphylaxis where even the slightest exposure to dairy sees his throat swell and blood pressure drop to dangerous levels.
“As a nine month old baby I was diagnosed with an allergy against all types of dairy products and I was five years old when I first became a MedicAlert member,” Kurt says.
“I remember wearing my emblem until I was in my teens, but among everything else going on in my life it no longer seemed an important part of risk management for my condition so I foolishly stopped wearing it and let my membership lapse. I thought I was a bullet-proof teenager who could take care of himself.”
“In hindsight it was one of the most dangerous decisions I could have made, especially because I have averaged at least one major reaction every year despite my best efforts to avoid all dairy products,” he says.
It was in late 2010 that Kurt had a reaction that nearly ended his life, and served as the spark to re-new his MedicAlert membership.
“I was at a work function and had a couple of sips of wine thinking I was safe, but I later found out that a dairy component is sometimes used during the production process, and that is what triggered my most sudden and near-fatal reaction. This was the first time I had encountered dairy products in wine, and I was completely unaware of the risk,” Kurt says.
“I was rushed to hospital and was taken straight into the resuscitation area in the Emergency department. After being resuscitated I had a second (biphasic) reaction about 45 minutes after adrenaline had been administered. This was another severe reaction and it resulted in the emergency team having to resuscitate me for the second time in less than an hour.”
“That was the defining moment when I decided to take back control and started wearing my MedicAlert emblem again. It really scared me.”
Kurt says he now puts on his MedicAlert dog tag as part of his daily ritual, so that every time he leaves the house he has the added confidence that the distinctive emblem is there to provide information and talk for him during an emergency.
“That decision has already paid off because it was only last year when I was at a function in Melbourne where during a dinner with clients I ate something with trace elements of dairy – which triggered an immediate reaction,” Kurt says.
“A colleague who knew about my allergy rushed me to hospital but because she wasn’t a family member she wasn’t allowed into the emergency area. I was struggling to speak and couldn’t tell hospital staff what was wrong with me. While they knew it was some sort of reaction they didn’t know why – but I was able to show them my MedicAlert emblem and they immediately gave me the right treatment for my condition.”
Kurt says his own experiences should serve as a warning to others with life-threatening allergies to not be complacent about their own health and safety.
“I urge young teens – especially men – with a condition like mine to make it a priority to wear a MedicAlert emblem and stay a member. There is now a range of bracelet and necklace options available and I have opted for a dog tag because it is discreet and can be worn under my work clothing,” Kurt says.
“I have greater control over my own safety at home, but as soon as I step outside my MedicAlert is around my neck because I know that while I am excessively careful on what I eat or drink there is always the risk that I could be exposed to dairy and I have a lot more living that I want to do.”