Stirling Cope, 18, has been participating in oral immunotherapy for his peanut allergy for the past seven years and he has seen a tremendous benefit.
Diagnosed with a life-threatening peanut allergy when he was 18 months old, Stirling was unable to enjoy regular childhood activities, like visiting a library without the fear of having a severe allergic reaction. Even a high-five with a classmate who recently had contact with peanuts would cause Stirling to experience a reaction.
Over the years, with close medical monitoring, Stirling has slowly increased his peanut dose and his body’s ability to ingest peanuts. Through an oral immunotherapy study he participated in at Lurie Children’s, Stirling dedicates time each day to expose his body to peanuts.
“We found that the ideal time for Stirling to ingest the peanuts is right after dinner. He takes his peanut dose with yogurt and then he sits to do his homework. He must keep his heart rate down for a couple of hours after each dose in order to prevent a reaction. His progress takes dedication, but the benefits have far outweighed any challenges we have faced in committing to the oral immunotherapy," says Sherry Cope, Stirling’s mom.
Since Stirling began peanut oral immunotherapy, he can now ingest 17 peanuts a day; but that still does not give him the green light to freely eat peanuts or foods that may contain peanut.
Sherry stresses, “Stirling has been closely monitored over the years by the Lurie Children’s Food Allergy team and we understand that this is not a cure for his food allergy, rather an extra layer of protection for accidental exposure to peanuts. We still carry an epi-pen and read food labels. However, I joke now that his participation in this study allows him to go off to college without me by his side. It’s given him freedom that we didn’t think imaginable when he was younger and for that we are extremely grateful.”
This fall, Stirling will head off to college at Baylor University, majoring in Biology and Chemistry, Pre-Med, with hopes to become a doctor.
What is OIT?
The Division of Allergy and Immunology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago now offers Oral Immunotherapy (OIT).
OIT is performed by feeding the patient increasing doses of peanut protein slowly over time, starting with an extremely small dose. Eventually, the patient will eat a larger, daily dose of peanut protein that they can tolerate without a reaction. This dose is eaten every day in hopes that it will provide a protective benefit to cross-contact or accidental ingestion of peanut. This is not a guarantee of future tolerance — meaning that the patient will not necessarily be able to eat peanut freely without reaction. The need for diligence and immediate access to injectable epinephrine persists.