Baylor freshman no longer has life-threatening peanut allergy thanks to medical study

Barrington, Illinois, freshman Stirling Cope decreases his peanut allergy by developing a tolerance. Grace Everett | Photographer

By Matt Kyle | Personal editor

Growing up in Barrington, Illinois, freshman Stirling Cope had to live under strict conditions. He and his family had to be constantly vigilant against any possible exposure to peanuts due to his life-threatening peanut allergy.

This meant that everything he came into contact with had to be checked, he had to sit alone at a peanut-free table for lunch, and everything had to be wiped down and cleaned before he touched it. He rarely saw his friends, he could barely go to restaurants, and he couldn’t even eat ice cream.

Stirling’s first major reaction came when he nibbled on a peanut butter cookie when he was 14 months old. Doctors later determined he was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame seeds. Stirling said he was too allergic to even be tested because he could be sent to hospital in anaphylactic shock with exposure to just 1/4000th of a peanut – practically dust particles.

“It was off the charts,” Stirling said. “I had a very bad case. It was deadly. My peanut allergy was so bad that no doctor would want to give me a skin test for peanut allergy because just putting it on my skin would cause a reaction.

A backlash occurred when Stirling clapped the hands of a classmate who had eaten peanut butter two hours prior. Twenty minutes later he was in an ambulance heading for the hospital. Another happened at a hotel in Spain when a bartender forgot to tell his shift to wash his hands and not touch peanuts while handling Stirling’s drinks. The new bartender filled a bowl with peanuts before putting a straw in his juice, and the miscommunication sent Stirling to the hospital for two days.

“Everything was a risk,” Stirling said. “Honestly, it was scary eating out or going to friends’ houses. I could never stay for dinner. I couldn’t try new things in a restaurant. You never really know if you can trust the people serving you or the cooks in the kitchen. When they say, ‘Oh, I’m sure I’m fine’, I say, ‘Well, I could die, it’s serious.’ »

Sherry Cope, Stirling’s mother, said she and her family constantly worried about Stirling’s exposure to peanuts. She said this constant vigilance was daunting and extremely stressful.

“He didn’t go to birthday parties or slumber parties or social events,” Sherry said. “Movie theaters were very dangerous. He couldn’t go to the library because other kids were looking at books and going home and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while they read.

Sherry said Stirling Primary School even banned peanuts altogether in a bid to protect him. Although she said her college allowed students to bring peanuts, no nuts were served by the school at lunch.

When Stirling was in fifth grade, he heard about an ongoing research study in Chicago called Peanut Reactivity Reduced by Oral Tolerance in an Anti-IgE Clinical Trial (PROTECT) study. The study involved several children with extreme peanut allergies and aimed to reduce the severity of the children’s allergies by giving them increased doses of peanuts, which would hopefully increase their tolerance to peanuts over time. time.

Stirling’s allergy was so severe that the researchers even made an exception for him to participate in the study. The study was already complete when he and his family first heard about it, but after his mother called the researchers every day for a month, they brought him in for tests and realized that the severity of his allergy made him a perfect subject for study. .

“I was very determined,” Sherry said. “They only chose nine children. I called every day, talked to everyone I could, begged them to at least interview him and get him tested because he was so badly allergic.

The researchers determined the minimum amount of peanut exposure it would take to cause a full-fledged reaction, then gave Stirling a steroid called Xolair, which is believed to boost his immune system. After a year on Xolair, Stirling was exposed to his baseline dosage and had no reaction.

Now the study could begin.

“The first time I voluntarily ate peanuts for the study was one of the scariest things,” Stirling said. “I was just sitting there in a room with five doctors standing around me. I was connected to all these IVs. You really feel like a test subject. You expect something bad to happen. I’ve been told not to do this all my life – like jumping off a bridge – and someone just tells you to do it. You know they’ll be ready to help you, but something bad is about to happen.

Each week, Stirling’s peanut dose slowly increased. Eventually, her dose started to increase twice a week. After spending four years in the study, Stirling managed to tolerate eating 17 peanuts without experiencing a reaction – the same dose he now takes every day.

Based on research made in the study, peanut immunotherapy is now given as a treatment for people with severe peanut allergies.

With his now increased tolerance to peanuts, Stirling no longer has to worry about accidental exposure to peanuts. Although he still has the allergy, it is now much less severe and no longer life-threatening. Stirling said if he was accidentally exposed to peanuts today, nothing would happen.

Stirling said the study completely changed his life.

“I didn’t really know what it meant to be free until the end of the study,” Stirling said. “I’m always careful, but I can eat at so many different places. I had never really eaten fast food before. The first time I ate ice cream was when I was 13 because it’s usually made in a factory with nuts.

Every day, Stirling eats 17 peanuts in order to maintain his tolerance. While Stirling said he hates the taste of peanuts, it’s just something he has to do. If he doesn’t take his daily dose of peanuts, he risks resetting his tolerance, bringing all the fear and caution back. Thanks to the study, Stirling no longer has to worry about constantly cleaning, he doesn’t have to leave the room while someone is eating peanuts, and he can live a normal life.

“If it wasn’t for my studies, I’d probably be living with my mom right now,” Stirling said. “I don’t know how college would have worked for me. I couldn’t hang out with people. I couldn’t go to the mess halls. I feel more like an ordinary person. I am able to do things. I can travel. I can go out with people. I can do whatever I want now without living in fear.

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