Tammy never thought she’d watch her son, Lorenzo, play high school football. Born with persistent and severe allergic asthma, he was unable to run and play like other children his age. He was frequently sick and hospitalized, and his diet had to be strictly monitored for foods that could trigger anaphylactic shock. He struggled to breathe because of regular levels of activity and relied on inhalers and medications to get through day-to-day events.
Despite being a sports enthusiast, Lorenzo was unable to participate in the sports he loved. The threat of a potentially fatal asthma attack kept him sidelined for years while his peers played and improved. Tammy knew Lorenzo's condition was impacting his quality of life and preventing him from enjoying many of the activities he wanted to do.
Tammy brought Lorenzo to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for a second opinion about his allergic asthma. They met Sigrid P. DaVeiga, MD, Co-director of the Pulmonology Allergy Personalized Asthma (PAPA) Clinic, and an attending physician with the Allergic Asthma Program, Allergy Program, and Food Allergy Center.
CHOP’s Allergic Asthma Program was designed to provide the most advanced forms of treatment for allergic asthma, including newly developed biologic therapies. One such injectable medication targets the body's immune system response to allergens, reducing inflammation in the lungs, and blocking receptors in the body that trigger an asthma attack.
A childhood limited
More About IGE-Mediated Food Allergies
Lorenzo was born allergic to many foods including tree nuts, eggs, barley, wheat, shellfish and peanuts, making regular feedings nearly impossible for his parents and potentially deadly for him. His IgE-mediated food allergies produced an immediate reaction when he was exposed to the trigger foods, and he's gone into anaphylactic shock 11 times in his life. His diet is now restricted to meat, fruit and vegetables, and ingredients are painstakingly monitored to prevent an allergic attack.
Enjoying a restaurant was a challenge, says Tammy. “He has to avoid wheat and eggs. When you have a 2-year-old who can’t eat anything on the kids’ menu, it’s tough. We had to order him filet minion because that’s the only thing he could eat.”
Lorenzo was also diagnosed with asthma early in his life. Throughout his childhood, Lorenzo's asthma halted his involvement in many active adventures that are part of childhood. Any exertion — from playing tag to riding his bike — could make him struggle to breathe. And any time he developed a cold, it quickly turned into bronchitis, pneumonia or respiratory distress.
“He was not able to make it without his nebulizer,” says Tammy. “When he’d get a cold, it would go straight to his lungs. He was often sick, and frequently in the hospital.”
Lorenzo also suffered from eczema, a painful, red, scaly rash. “He rarely slept and was often crying," Tammy recalls. "He was itching and scratching all of the time because he was allergic to breast milk and the ingredients in baby food.”
Changing a life by treating a condition
After an examination by Dr. DaVeiga, she suggested to Lorenzo and his family that he might benefit from an injectable biologic therapy. A blood test confirmed the medication would help control the inflammation that caused his asthma attacks, may decrease his symptoms and allow him to become more active.
Lorenzo was 13 years old when he had his first injection of the biologic therapy, and it continued every other week for years. Now almost 16, Lorenzo continues to return to Dr. DaVeiga's office at the CHOP Specialty Care Center in Exton, PA, every two weeks for his injection.
The therapy has completely transformed Lorenzo's life. He's able to maintain normal activity levels for a child his age, and the instances of potentially fatal allergic reactions have drastically decreased.
“He used to not be able to make it through practice," Tammy says.
“Now, he’s in 98 percent of the plays. He is in football, track and lacrosse, and he’s an undefeated wrestler. This has been a life-changing medication.”
Dr. DaVeiga’s approach to care goes beyond treating a condition to improving Lorenzo’s life. “Dr. DaVeiga was as honest as she could be — she recognized that Lorenzo’s quality of life was affected. She took an interest in improving his situation so he could be a kid like he wanted to be,” says Tammy.
The treatment program managed and improved many of Lorenzo's health concerns and allowed him to participate in his own life to a much greater degree. It also provided peace of mind for his parents who began to see him accomplishing more and suffering less.
“In the three years since he’s been getting these injections, he’s not been in the hospital for asthma or food allergy-related issues once,” says Tammy. “He wants to play football in college — and now I can see that happening."
Lorenzo's future looks brighter as research and treatments for persistent severe allergic asthma continue to advance. The Allergic Asthma Program at CHOP is at the forefront of this advancement, which ensures that Lorenzo — and other children who have this condition — will have treatment options that not only improve their health, but also enhance their lives.
“As a freshman, Lorenzo attended the varsity games with his freshman team. I sat in the stands and watched him on the sidelines. He had his backpack with his EpiPen® and inhaler that he takes everywhere, but he was just like the rest of the players. He doesn’t have to let asthma limit him anymore. This August, he will officially be on the varsity team,” Tammy says. “He’s gone through a lot of anaphylactic shock, hospitalizations and respiratory distress, but he’s out there playing with everyone now. I’m grateful he’s able to do that.”