New Treatment for Food Allergies Under FDA Review, Popularity Growing in the Twin Cities

May 07, 2018 10:52 PM

For many of us, mealtime is the best time of the day.

However, for the Welna family from Blaine, it's always been one of the most stressful times of the day. 

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Eleven-year-old Caden Welna has a severe peanut allergy. It's meant a lifetime of avoiding popular foods, label reading and some scary, close calls.

"Right around age one, I gave him some peanut butter and he broke out in hives," Nicole Welna, Caden's mother, said. "Then around age 7 he accidentally ingested peanuts. His whole neck and trunk were bright red like a sunburn."

"I started to vomit and I got all itchy," Caden recalled.

That experience was why Caden and his parents decided to try and control his peanut allergy by trying oral immunotherapy treatment at The Allergy and Asthma Center of Minnesota.

Caden has been slowly exposed to small amounts of peanuts over an extended period of time. The process can sometimes take up to a year. He started with just specks of peanut dust back in July. He has to repeat the same dose at the same time every day, until his doctor determines whether it's safe to increase the dose. 

"It's kind of a revolutionary new way to help people with food allergies," said Dr. Doug McMahon, the director of allergy at The Allergy and Asthma Center of Minnesota.

Caden has been increasing his dose about once a week, and by the time 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS met him in November 2017, he had worked up to two peanuts. Soon, he will actually try peanut butter.

"I'm nervous; I can't wait to see what it tastes like," Caden said.

Throughout the process, there have been a few minor bumps in the road. One week, Caden's lips started to swell.

McMahon says, thankfully, none of his patients has had a severe reaction during oral immunotherapy. Most reactions here, and during other clinical trials, have been mild and have happened early in the process. But even still, they keep Epi Pens, oxygen and antihistamines on hand just in case. 

They also monitor patients every 15 minutes for an hour after patients take a peanut dose. They check the lungs, heart, mouth and skin for any reaction.

"There are some risks involved," McMahon said. "We are honest with families. We tell them what the studies show and that we can't guarantee you won't react, but if you do react... we are here to treat you," he said.

Fast forward to March 2018, Caden's final appointment. By then, he has worked up to ingesting 24 peanuts, the equivalent of what's in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. To make it easier on a kid who still hasn't acquired a taste for peanuts, they mix peanut powder into a smoothie.

"Oh, it smells!" Caden observed.

Nevertheless, he was able to eat it all without any complications. Passing the final test means everyday worries and risks are reduced.

"Apparently this means I get to try 'Monster Cookie' ice cream," Caden said as he left the clinic for the final time.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS checked back in with Caden a few weeks after he finished his treatment. He was helping his mother cook a dinner recipe they had never eaten before: peanut chicken.

Caden said there are a lot of little ways of ways his life has changed since completing oral immunotherapy treatment.

"I don't have to sit at the peanut-free table anymore; I can sit anywhere," he said.

For many families, a peanut allergy is not just about food. It's about attempting to find peace of mind. Caden's mother said that was their motivation.

"It's changed things so that I'm not so worried all the time," she said. "Just sending him to a friend's house, birthday parties and school and not having to worry so much. That's why we did this. Peace of mind."

Caden still has to have a daily dose of eight peanuts to maintain his tolerance.

Oral immuntherpay hasn't been approved by the FDA yet, as it's still in clinical trials. In some clinical trials being conducted, the success rate is as high as 84 percent.

The cost of this treatment may vary. In Caden's case, his family paid the co-pay for each office visit.

Credits

Ellen Galles

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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