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Spotlight Interview: Ruth Smith

About Ruth:  I spend most of my time on BestAllergySites.com, but contribute when I can to my blog on sustainable living, crafting, and organic gardening at GreenPeony.com. In a past life I was a Graphic Designer, now I’m a writer, artist, life learner, and most of all mother of two-which we all know is more than a full time job in and of itself. I’m also a bit of a serial volunteer. It’s important to me to be a part of and give back to my community. Aside for working in my children’s classrooms, I also work on annual PTO events, I’m on the board of our town garden club and am chairing the plant sale this year, I am a volunteer team leader for a local Asthma Allergy Foundation of America support group, and I’m coaching t-ball for the first time.

I’m a firm “pay it forward” believer. If I can make a difference for just one person or family then it is completely worth it for me.

How were you introduced to the world of allergies?
From birth my oldest son had eczema and occasional cases of mysterious hives. Just before age 2 he touched a cutting board I had chopped walnuts on and rubbed his eyes. He immediately started sneezing and coughing up mucus. In a matter of moments his eyes and face turned red with hives and began to swell. He was later diagnosed with life threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, egg, sesame, and soy.
What made you decide to start Best Allergy Sites?
When my son received his allergy diagnosis, my husband and I were given an EpiPen prescription and then sent on our way. We didn’t know who to turn to or where to look for support and advice. Fast forward several years and this same situation is still happening every day.
There are so many wonderful allergy sites and blogs and not a single free and easy to use directory to find them. It seemed to me that the allergy world needed a central resource where people could go and find allergy information, education, support, recipes, advice, product information-anything and everything one might need to manage living with allergies. Best Allergy Sites is the resource I wish I had when my son was diagnosed. It would have saved us a lot of effort, time, and frustration.
Does Best Allergy Sites focus exclusively on food allergies, or can site about seasonal or nasal allergies submit information too? 
The mission of Best Allergy Sites is to bring all of the best allergy information into a one central resource or directory. Any allergy related business, blog, or site can submit for consideration; however we personally review and enter by hand each and every submission. If a site or blog appears to offer dangerous advice or information or doesn’t seem genuine-it doesn’t get listed. That very rarely happens though. Most submitters to Best Allergy Sites are living with allergies in some way, are allergy advocates, and really care about the allergy community.
What’s the hardest part about dealing with allergies?
Entering school. I mistakenly thought that all schools were aware and on top of allergy concerns. We moved to a specific town because of the school’s overall reputation but neglected to ask what their policy was regarding food allergies. We quickly found out that the district had no allergy policy even though the Massachusetts Department of Education had published a brochure titled “Managing Life Threatening Food Allergies in Schools” in 2002. While the state currently has no law requiring allergy policies or protocols, the brochure strongly suggests all Massachusetts schools draft and implement them. I’m pleased to say that after a lot of personal work and advocating, our district implemented its first set of allergy policies and protocols this year.
What has surprised you the most?
My son’s maturity and his resilience. He had to learn about death and dying long before any child should have to. There was a time (and there still are times) when he is consistently excluded from activities, play dates, and birthday parties. We live in a very pro-food country. It’s not uncommon for the school cafeteria to serve a treat on holidays to all students that my son cannot have. It’s pretty hard on a young child to watch 100 kids eat a special Halloween or Christmas cookie. It’s even harder when a friend brings cupcakes to school to celebrate a birthday and leaves him out.
Many parents dealing with food allergies (or not) think that this is just the way life is; that food allergic kids need to get used to it or “suck it up” so to speak. I can’t tell you how many parents let their children be excluded in school, convinced that it didn’t bother them, only to realize the compounding results of exclusion over time. There have been studies done on the quality of life for the food allergic and the results are grim.
There are other ways to celebrate events in school that include ALL children. You wouldn’t exclude a child based on race, religion, sex, or any disability; so it baffles me that it’s still acceptable (to some) to exclude children with food allergies. Thankfully life threatening food allergies are covered under disability laws. You need to know your rights and exercise them.
Where have you found the most support?
I started out getting the most help online. Now that I volunteer with Asthma Allergy Foundation of America, I am meeting more and more local individuals within the allergy community.
When you think of the future and the work you are doing, what gives you a sense of hope?
Seeing families overcome the shock of a life threatening diagnosis and seeing children thrive-despite how different their lives can be from other children-is pretty amazing. We’ve all heard about the recent treatment studies. While I’m hopeful for a cure some day, we still have a long way to go. In the mean time families still need information and support.
I’m a firm “pay it forward” believer. If I can make a difference for just one person or family then it is completely worth it for me. I’ll keep doing this and advocating for allergy awareness as long as it continues to help others.
To learn more about Ruth and Best Allergy Sites, visit her page here at WEGO Health.

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