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Like all our mompreneurs, Ann wears many hats. Not only is she a mother of two and wife to Brad, but she is a successful entrepreneur, advocate, educator, and all-around warrior for kids with food allergies. It’s this kind of passion that led her to launch Alert Wear.
Alert Wear creates custom epi-pen and/or medicine cases for children and adults with food allergies or other conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, which may require them to have medication within reach. Alert Wear’s mission is to ensure that every child with a life-threatening food allergy is wearing two epi-pens or other auto-injectors at all times. The cases can be worn on the waist, clipped on, or worn as a purse or armband and can even be made waterproof. Ann also makes adorable matching doll cases!
For a child with an anaphylactic allergy, being able to carry his or her own meds can not only be life-saving but empowering as well. Unfortunately, an emergency can happen anywhere at any time and intervention can be required before there is time for a trip to the nurse’s office. Self-carrying medication provides a child with the reassurance that if they have a reaction, they don’t have to rely on someone else to find and administer their medicine, they can take care of it themselves.
The custom designs offered by Alert Wear also give children a sense of ownership and pride. According to Ann,
I want a child to feel passionate about their case, whatever it takes to get a kid excited about wearing their medicine.
Ann encourages that each child plays an active role in selecting the design. By visiting the Alert Wear Facebook page and looking under “Notes,” you and your child will find design instructions and options for customizing an item.
If a child designs their own case it builds anticipation. This is something they created. It has their name on it. They want to wear their case and they don’t want to leave it behind. There are kids who don’t even want to take it off to go to bed.
Ann’s 7-year old daughter Kate, who is allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts, says it makes her feel “Good. Happy because you get to design it. It’s cool.” In fact, her little friends without allergies have asked Ann to make them cases!
For some children, a fantastic design isn’t as important as remaining inconspicuous. In third grade, Ann’s son Nick, now 11 years old and allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and eggs, was bullied for carrying his medication with him in a bulky fanny pack. It was this episode that inspired her to construct her own epi-pen cases that could easily hide under clothing while still accommodating two epi-pens and two doses of antihistamine.
Alert Wear cases can lie flat like an envelope when empty. Additionally, they are reinforced with canvas panels that protect against wear and tear. The waistbands stretch so they can have a snug fit while still being able to move and bounce along with the kids while they jump and play. Alert Wear is structured for durability, mobility, and discretion all at the same time, and made by a mom who understands firsthand the needs of active children with allergies.
While safety, style, and the ability to conceal are certainly integral in Alert Wear design, the cases also play a role in nurturing vital independence. Not only do Ann’s children suffer from multiple food allergies, but their reactions can often be severe and life-threatening. Nick has had reactions that cut off his airways and give him a sense of drowning while Kate’s blood pressure can drop and she can pass out or even go into cardiac arrest. Sometimes their reactions have been triggered by airborne particles and can range from hives, swelling, diarrhea, or an asthma attack.
Yet despite all the dangers society holds, Ann recognizes how important it is for her children and other allergy kids to learn how to function in the real world. Simple things most parents take for granted, like attending school, can be dangerous for children with allergies, and yet all the more important for these “bubble babies.” According to Ann,
Education is great, but what they really need to learn is how to not totally be under my wing.
Their Alert Wear medicine cases allow them to navigate a world that may not always be safe for them.
While the case of Ann’s children seems especially severe, it’s important to understand that any food allergy can become life-threatening at any moment. In a recent story out of California, John Lehr, CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education, was quoted saying,
We tell people that their last reaction is not an indication of their next reaction. Don’t think because you have not had a severe reaction that you can’t have one.John Lehr, CEO Food Allergy Reseaech and Education
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 out of every 100 children have a food allergy and that food allergies in the US are on the rise. Food allergies are more prevalent among children than adults and 8 types of food are responsible for over 90% of allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
Another way that Ann advocates for her own children as well as other families coping with allergies is through the Allergy Support for Kids (A.S.K.) group for Northeastern Illinois and Southeastern Wisconsin. It is an online support group whose aim is to help kids “to thrive and be involved in our community by advocating with them and for them.” The group offers support and encouragement along with working to educate the community and planning safe events for allergy kids.
Ann understands that people may not understand the severity of food allergies and feel inconvenienced by allergy protocols, “It’s hard to comprehend unless you live it. I know that.” As such she has taught her children to advocate for themselves. As a preschooler, Kate was given a cereal bar from a teacher and told to eat it. Unsure, Kate refused even after the teacher insisted it was safe. Finally, Kate insisted the teacher read the ingredients out loud and in front of her and sure enough, one of the first ingredients was dairy, a known allergen for Kate.
One may think with conditions this severe, it would be easier and safer for the kids to live in confinement. Ann counters that thought through a poignant post on her blog A K9 for Kate where she compares sending her child off to school to putting her on a tricycle on the interstate during rush hour. In it, she writes,
Sure, we can stay home and isolate ourselves from the world but, that idea has problems all it’s own… As her mom, I don’t feel like I have a choice to hold her back. I have to educate her to be safe on her route. We will of course avoid rush hour (i.e. parties and events that are focused on food when we feel there is no alternative). She needs to be out there just like all kids do even if all she has is her tricycle.
Ann’s tireless advocacy and her line of Alert Wear products are helping families and children living with food allergies to live life out of the bubble. Regardless if you or your children have an anaphylactic allergy, you can help too. As we all gear up for back to school, it’s good to keep in mind that there are many simple measures everyone can take to make life safer for kids who suffer from food allergies. Ann makes the following suggestions:
- Wash your hands after you eat
- Try not to be offended if a child with allergies asks what you ate or asks you not to kiss them
- Be mindful if you are in a place where food is not normally being served and you choose to eat. For instance, people don’t normally expect to find half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a doctor’s waiting room.
- Please clean up after yourself, particularly don’t leave behind egg or nutshells.
Young children without allergies may have questions about their friends with food allergies. A straightforward approach can be the best. Ann has heard her friends explain the issue to their young ones that food may be safe for you but for some people, it’s like a poison that can make them very sick or send them to hospital. Ann has found that “Most kids actually get it more than adults do. They are very compassionate about their friends.”
Disclosure: Alert Wear is our featured Business of the Month. This series is part of a paid promotion partnership with Little Lake County. If you are interested in featuring your locally-owned business in our series, please contact the sales team.