I had been working as a researcher and a physician in the field of allergy and immunology for five years when I decided to focus on providing therapy to children and adults with near fatal food allergies. Approximately four million people in the US suffer from more than one food allergy and, at the time, there was no hope available to them for treatment outside of just avoiding the foods that caused allergic reactions.
I shared my idea of starting a whole new program for therapy in multi food immunotherapy to some of my immediate colleagues and was initially told it was “far too daunting,” “could never be done,” “too much of a regulatory hurdle” and “too risky.” I listened to their words of caution but I was determined to find a way to tackle this problem for the sake of my patients and others suffering from severe food allergies.
By reaching out to world-experts in the field of food allergy, I learned more about the methods, logistics and regulations to run clinical research in food allergy. Through education and advocacy for food allergy patients, I was able to obtain the support and help of my academic institution to perform multi food immunotherapy. Moreover, the patients and their families provided inspiration, support and feedback to be able to design clinical research studies that were focused on optimizing safety and compliance.
I took on this new leadership role as a volunteer and then worked for four years before obtaining my own partial salary funding for the clinical studies. I was passionate about starting a new program and felt confident that with hard work and with the team work of excellent staff, we would be successful in reaching important research milestones for grant funding opportunities. We wanted to have our research be viewed as having a major impact on the field of food allergy.
I set to work writing protocols and training staff to conduct clinical research in children and adults with multiple food allergies. I wanted to ensure the safety of all patients so I set up on-call systems, training for patients and families, and follow up communications by our staff to our patients and families. We were provided the space in the hospital needed to be able to perform the therapy studies as safely as possible. Funds were raised through community outreach, through the hard work of a parent advocacy group, through the university, and eventually through national foundations and NIH.
Now, looking back on the past, I will never forget the first day that our first patient in the trial was able to eat pizza, a cupcake and a granola bar all on the same day (this patient was allergic to wheat, egg, milk, and many different nuts). Patients and families say their experience, after they finish the clinical study, is “life changing” and they are able “to eat without fear” for the first time in their lives. I personally feel I have grown in many ways. I have become more confident in making decisions and in my ability to have an impact even when there are large obstacles to overcome. I have reaffirmed my interest in asking scientific questions to help improve the health of others. I embraced the fact that I am a working mom raising five young children and finding the time between being an involved parent and being a productive physician scientist. I have developed skills needed for effective leadership to accomplish a goal, a passion that was inspired by a medical problem. I now encourage and mentor others (students, patients, families, research staff, clinical staff) to pursue important research questions that pertain to health problems.