By Matthew’s Mom-
At 2 months old, my baby was unable to digest infant formula He became lethargic and turned grey Our pediatrician suggested a non-dairy infant formula, which he tolerated well. It was costly, but thankfully, as working parents, we were able to provide for our son. At Matthew’s first birthday, the doctor suggested we reintroduce milk to our son. Well, one ounce of milk in 11 ounces of formula landed us in the hospital 2 hours later. We realized that this was not just an “intolerance” to milk but something much more significant. It was determined that Matthew was anaphylactic to all dairy products. This included milk and milk proteins, casein and whey. It has been a challenge trying to educate people about the life-threatening risks of his allergy, an allergy shared by millions of children and adults. Education of schools, camps and care takers became an arduous task. Many people now understand the risks of peanut allergy, but there are 7 other major food allergens that have the same risk to the child affected. Our advocacy for Matthew has led us down a path to meeting other families who are burdened by the same affliction.
We could not be prouder of Matthew as he deals with the everyday challenges that affect him, countless others and their families. He has never had ice cream, cheese, or pizza. As a 13 year old, he now must be responsible for himself in environments that expose him to such products. He usually eats at home or brings his own food and epi-pen when he goes to parties. He is just happy to be part of the crowd and is fortunate to have many wonderful friends to “watch his back”. And by the way, the is equally sensitive to beef and pork. No hamburgers, steak, etc.
It is because of Matthew’s daily challenges that make him see how fortunate he really is. He eats his “special pizza” and “special desserts” at home, since most restaurants can’t safely accommodate his allergies. He also knows the high cost of his special foods. One day he realized what would happen to him if his family could not afford to buy him the necessary foods to keep him safe and well nourished at the same time. That was when he wanted to start Matthew’s Vision ( he wanted Matthew’s Mission, but that name was taken!). He hopes to help play a part in educating everyone of this often overlooked but life changing and potentially deadly affliction. His vision is that afflicted people and families,especially the children, can enjoy one of life’s basic pleasures in a healthy, happy and safe way.
Coming up with a Bar Mitzvah Project was easy since I have had life-threatening food allergies since birth. I am fortunate that my parents can afford to feed me safe and healthy food. I thought about those people, especially children, who are not as lucky.
I gave a lot of thought regarding this project. I shared my ideas with my parents. We then had numerous brain-storming sessions. My Dad helped me to apply for tax-exempt status. While we waited for that, we built our web site. I vetoed any suggestions from my parents, and they gave me complete veto rights. It was important to me to incorporate my suggestions and goals.
I am attempting to educate the public to the enormous affect that life-threatening food allergies have on people like me and our families. There are many existing charities that contribute to and provide for the hungry. Mine is specific for those, of the seven million with food allergies, that are financially challenged. I will contribute funds received specifically to those people who suffer from this affliction. I hope that with my leadership and all of the hard work I’m putting in, that those in need are helped with the necessary care.
I am attempting to collect donations through my website, word of mouth, fundraisers, and partnering with other charities with hunger-related causes. One hundred per cent of contributions will be used for charitable purposes.
The thing that has excited me the most is whatever donations come into my website and the high praise I’m receiving from others. Some challenges that I have discovered working on this project are the explanations I have to give people because of their lack of understanding and ignorance about food allergies. Everyone seems to know about peanut allergies. When people hear that I am allergic to dairy, they think I am lactose intolerant and get a stomach ache. They can’t believe that I have never had a slice of pizza or ice cream other than with non-dairy substitutes. Then they start to feel bad and really appreciate what I am trying to accomplish. The local food banks don’t seem to know how to distribute my funds to my target population. I am now trying to become a direct source of contact for these people and families.
I hope to inspire people who see the effort and passion that I put into my project.
I received a Local Youth Ambassador plaque from the FAAN NY Golf Classic 2011. At the time, Matthew’s Vision was Matthew’s Mission.