Stuart Semple: ‘I nearly died because of my food allergy’

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , /

I’m Stuart Semple and I have had allergies
pretty much my whole life. But when I was about 19 that they got more severe and that’s when I nearly died from them. I was on my way home from University in my first year to visit my parents and I grabbed a sandwich from a motorway station. It had obviously been contaminated with something that I was allergic to that I didn’t know about. And increasingly as the journey progressed I got worse and worse and I could hardly breathe. After that I went to hospital and they put me in the ENT ward so they could keep an eye on my throat because they were
really scared it would close up and they gave me the normal medication that they give you
when you have an allergy which is anti-histamines and steroids and adrenalin injections but
it didn’t really knock down the allergy for some reason and they couldn’t really
tell me why. And they did a skin prick test and they came back with about 52 things that
I was allergic to, everything from dust mites to peanuts but they couldn’t really tell
me which one of these specific things had caused the incident so I left there
very, very terrified that it could happen again if I ate or drank anything. The classic thing is that in restaurants I can’t have salad stuff I’m allergic to tomatoes, celery and lettuce – which is quite strange. Celery is like a base for everything and quite often they’ll bring out a plate of food and I can see celery and lettuce on the plate and I’ll say: ‘I’m sorry I told you I was allergic to this’. and I’ll literally see them go to the side and knock it off the plate and bring it back
and the juice of all that stuff is all over my food. Every reaction I have tends to be different – some of them are quite extreme and they
come on very very quickly, and it’s an epi pen and an ambulance job, and I’ll find
it difficult to swallow and I’ll find it hard to breathe. And I’ll become very anxious
and nervous at that point because I think I’m going to die. In those situations it’s
not quite an epi pen and ambulance job, but it’s an anti-histamine job.
But the problems with the anti-histamines is, because I have been having them for so many
years now, they have a really terrible effect on me, that I can take one or two Piriton tablets now and it will wipe me out for two or three days. I can’t do any work, I can’t call
people, I am basically a zombie. My life is completely different now I live
with allergies. I mean every day I have to do things that normal people wouldn’t do.
I think twice before I eat or touch or consume anything. Before this happened to me I thought
I was a normal kid – I thought I was pretty indestructible, I never broke a bone, but
for me now eating out or buying something is a bit like Russian roulette and it’s
pretty tough. I’m really looking forward to the new allergen
rules. More than anything it’s so that food suppliers are a little bit more conscious
about what people like me go through. It means I don’t have to arrive at a restaurant and feel embarrassed to talk about my condition. Just to know that there is some
signage there or people are more aware, makes me comfortable to say: ‘Actually you know
I can’t have this, can I have that.’ Or say ‘Is this safe?’ and to be able to have
those discussions. It means that I can join in with my friends and enjoy normal life a
bit more. I think the new allergen rules are good news
for businesses because it means that people like me are going to be more confident of
going into their establishments, buy more food rather than sticking to the things we
know we can have and that are safe, or that the one place we know we are safe eating.
We are going to be a bit braver, experience more things on the menu, we are going to join
in more and ultimately, they’ll probably make more money, I would have thought.

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