Ainslee Nellis

Imagine walking into a coffee shop and having a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction due to the airborne dairy protein from streaming lattes. While this may sound far-fetched to most people, for seven-year-old Ainslee Nellis, it’s a very real danger she lives with every day.

Ainslee’s food allergies are uniquely severe; minute amounts of certain ingredients, measured in micrograms, can trigger anaphylaxis – a rapid and life-threatening allergic reaction.

Her extreme allergy was discovered when she was just four months old. “I didn’t even recognize my own child,” recalls Ainslee’s mother Shelly, as she describes what Ainslee looked like after drinking a bottle of milk-based formula. “Her face was so swollen and she was covered in vomit.”

While en route to the hospital, Ainslee’s condition deteriorated rapidly. “She went limp in my arms,” Shelly says. As her husband rushed them to the hospital, Shelly performed CPR on Ainslee in the backseat of their car. Thankfully, Ainslee received the care she needed in time.

The study of food allergies is a relatively new phenomenon, especially in pediatrics. Up until a few years ago, no program even existed for training pediatric allergists in British Columbia. Doctors at BC Children’s Hospital are working to change that with the help of Dr. Edmond Chan, head of UBC’s Division of Allergy and Immunology within the Department of Pediatrics at BC Children’s Hospital, and his team who created the first and only pediatric training program west of Manitoba at BCCH. Dr. Chan plans to delve further into research that promises to prevent and treat allergies in children.

Though anaphylaxis is not curable, prevention and treatments are improving. Knowing this is a great comfort to the Nellis family. However, since any snack could pose a potential threat to Ainslee’s life, Shelly decided to homeschool her daughter – a necessity rather than a preference.

Even though Ainslee copes with a severe food allergy daily, she is a happy and energetic child, always with a bright smile on her face.

Read more about Ainslee and BC Children's Hospital's allergy clinic in our fall issue of Speaking of Children.