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Peanut-Allergy Treatment Could Build Child's Tolerance, Ease Parents' Worries

EL DORADO HILLS (CBS13) — It was a simple kiss to the forehead just above the eye, but a parent's loving gesture became a life-changing moment for 7-year-old Kaiden Huang.

Her son was just 2 years old at the time, Kaiden's mom wasn't sure what to think.

"My husband had just had peanut butter with toast for breakfast and had kissed him goodbye and just kissed his face--and I'm like OK," said Adeline Yee.

A few minutes later though, something happened.

"His eye started getting swelled up and it shut, almost shut to one side and I had no idea what was going on because we had no idea he was allergic at that time," she said.

Kaiden would join 15 million other Americans suffering from a food allergy. In his case, it was a peanut allergy that can be deadly.

No need to tell that to a Sacramento mom and dad who lost their little girl a year and a half ago.

Natalie Giorgi, 13, had eaten a Rice Krispie treat while at Camp Sacramento in the summer of 2013. That snack contained peanut butter which had been mixed with the marshmallow filling. Despite being injected with an epi-pen designed to open airways in the lungs, she went into anaphylactic shock.

Kaiden's mom, Adeline, wasn't willing to live a life in fear of her son losing his life to the allergy. Her doctor, Binita Mandal, had started a program with Mercy Hospital designed to lessen the impact if a child is exposed to peanuts.

"We couldn't believe it," Yee said. "We were like wow, that was like fate or destiny that he would be able to do this program here."

Up until that point, the only program like it in Northern California was being offered at Stanford University with a waiting list 800 patients long.

Now, Kaiden is one of 30 children being seen by Dr. Mandal and her colleague at Mercy. The program is called oral immunotherapy.

"Children are given the foods they're allergic to and basically desensitized, raising the threshold at which they would have a reaction if they had exposure to that allergen," Mandal said.

She believes the avoidance method isn't enough.

"By doing this treatment, we can allow these patients to eat in restaurants without fear of cross-contamination from, example, a spatula in the back kitchen," she said. "That patients don't have to sit at a peanut-free table."

By slowly introducing them to peanuts, patients can be somewhat protected.

In a video of one of Kaiden's first visits, he was given a mixture of peanut powder and Kool-Aid. When his tongue started to itch, that's where the dosage was set.

Now, six months later, the first-grader is up to six grams of peanuts a day, or about half a dozen peanuts. It's a dosage Mom carefully measures every night that will be his maintenance level for the next three months.

After that, it'll be time for the peanut challengs.

We're gonna give him a bunch of peanuts, 24 actually, and he should be able to tolerate all 24 without a problem," she said.

That's about the amount that's in a peanut butter sandwich, and more than enough to give Mom what every parent strives for—peace of mind.

"If there's something you can do proactively to save your child's life, why wouldn't you do it?" she said.

With the number of children allergic to peanuts tripling in the past decade, we wanted to know what was behind the increase. One theory is known as hygiene hypothesis, where children may actually be over-protected from allergens.

But the bottom line is don't do this kind of therapy on your own. It's also not a replacement for the epi-pen.

Of the 30 children in the Sacramento peanut allergy program at Mercy, 12 have reached their maintenance level. Chances are, they'll have to stay on that daily dose for the rest of their lives.

Parents like Yee say it's better than living the rest of their lives in fear.

For more information, you can contact the program at (916) 351-4800.

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