Moms vs. Allergies
A grass-roots fight against an epidemic
The Bates and Hall families join forces for fun as well as their current efforts on behalf of E.A.T
Photos by Ryan Lavine
Kim Hall’s daughter was just shy of her first birthday the first time she went into anaphylactic shock. Her mother had fed her scrambled eggs with cheese. Elise Bates’s daughter was three years old when a trace of egg sent her to the emergency room; she ended up there again at age nine after reacting to green beans containing traces of nuts.
Their stories are like countless others told by parents of children with food allergies. It is a life defined by reading labels, questioning every pizza-and-cake birthday party, carrying an ever present Epi-Pen, worrying about what snacks might be served on a flight, and knowing that the wrong bite at the wrong time could be catastrophic.
“We were forced into this lifestyle for the next ten years. Her allergy was a huge factor whenever we would travel, and we stopped going to restaurants,” Hall says of her daughter Lindsay, who has an anaphylactic reaction to dairy, eggs, and nuts. “We realized that just the dust from a Dorito could put her into a life-threatening situation.”
Seeking answers, Hall attended a local food allergy meeting in 2013. There, she met Bates, whose daughter Campbell’s allergic reactions also include rashes, digestive issues, and eczema that can take up to two weeks to clear. The two women immediately connected, sharing a common belief that while education and prevention are important, more needs to be done right now to actively find a cure.
“Today, the ratio of kids with food allergies is one in 12. By 2020, it’s projected to be one in five,” says Bates. “There are 17 million children in the U.S. with food allergies, and the National Institute of Health provides $37 million in funding.”
Bates and Hall, who both have impressive backgrounds in high-level sales and strategic marketing, put their heads together to make a difference, with one thought in mind: “If we don’t do it, who will?”
In May 2015, the two officially launched E.A.T. or End Allergies Together, with the intent of accelerating the pace of research toward solutions. To that end, the organization commits 100 percent of net proceeds directly to carefully vetted research initiatives.
“To get a study to the clinical phase, the NIH estimates it takes $1 million to go through the grant process,” Bates says. “There are so many active studies—multi-allergen, single allergen, desensitization, peanut patch research, new delivery systems, studies on bacteria in the gut, Eastern medicine, and herbal remedies—with all of those going on, the numbers get big.”
When Hall’s daughter participated in one food challenge study, the numbers became clear. “Over two years ago Lindsay was invited to potentially participate in a multi-allergen desensitization clinical study for 60 children at Stanford Hospital,” says Hall. While visiting the Sean Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford, Kim learned that they needed to raise $4.5 million to fund the study. “How much, then, does it cost to cover all of the scenarios?”
Hall and Bates estimate the current food-allergy research-funding gap to be over $400 million. To tackle the challenge, they have built an E.A.T. advisory team made up of scientists and physicians who are leaders in the field but who are not running their own studies, and therefore are not looking for funding. With their objective guidance throughout a very deliberate review process, E.A.T. will award grants to fund the most promising research.
“We plan to give all of the proceeds from a calendar year away during that same year so that donations will have an immediate impact,” Bates says. “If we have money, let’s put it to work. Us sitting on it doesn’t do anything.”
The genesis of the organization’s name and brand identity is interesting as well as meaningful. The acronym—E.A.T.—was the brainchild of local cartoonist, creative thinker, and teacher Sean Kelly. “The stories Elise and Kim told me were heartbreaking. Millions of children with allergies are unable to safely engage in the most fundamental human activity: eating,” says Kelly. “So, I realized that the name could be one that gave a sense of hope. We wanted kids to know that it would be safe to eat. It then became a declaration: EAT!” It’s a dramatic slogan emblazoned on hats and T-shirts, and Bates and Hall zeroed-in on orange as the hue E.A.T could use as its signature color.
“When it comes to testing,” Hall says simply, “Researchers need to be in the lab, not out raising their own funds.”