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Treatment helps two girls overcome peanut allergy

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NORTH LIBERTY — Two Eastern Iowa families impacted by food allergies are fighting back.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies are a growing concern that impacts about 4-6% of children in the U.S.

Adriana Schafer and Claire Franzwa don’t have a lot in common. Adriana is 14 and lives in Coralville, while Claire is 7 and lives in North Liberty. Both, however, struggle with a severe allergy to peanuts.

“She was about 13 months old the first time she had a reaction. That was very, very scary,” said Adriana’s Mother Maureen Schafer.

“We’ve known about her peanut allergy since she was 13 months when we first gave her a peanut butter sandwich,” said Claire’s Mother Jennifer Franzwa.

The girls’ parents researched a relatively new treatment called Oral Immunotherapy or OIT. When they discovered a Des Moines doctor offered it, they signed the girls up.

“To eat something they’ve been told their whole life not to eat — that’s brave,” said Adriana’s Father Jim Schafer.

Here’s how it works: The doctor introduces a minuscule amount of a peanut in a solution.

“As her body gets more used to it being in there, her body learns not to react to it,” Jennifer Franzwa said.

Weeks later, the girls get doses of peanut flour. That comes in pill form. The girls dump that into food like pudding or apple sauce.

“Then after that, I built up to actually peanut M & M’s and that was fun,” said Adriana Schafer.

Their parents said OIT is all about quality of life.

“That freedom of we can go to a restaurant, we can go to a ballgame, we can do whatever, eat whatever,” said Jim Schafer.

Adriana finished the program and enjoys more food freedom. She eats the equivalent of about 10 peanuts a day to keep up her tolerance.

“If we’re out and it’s getting late, then we can just go to the gas station and get a Snickers and that’s my whole dose,” Adriana Schafer said.

Claire is about halfway done and excited for those peanut treats.

“Peanut butter cups, not M & M’s those are my second things,” Claire Franzwa said.

And she’s not the only one who is excited. Both sets of parents are thrilled that they can now breathe a sigh of relief.

“The fear of knowing that your child could die from accidental exposure is very scary and that’s the best part about going through this treatment is she is safe now,” Maureen Schafer said.

Some critics of OIT believe it’s too early for this type of therapy saying there’s not enough research to know its true effectiveness.

For many parents, however, this option provides hope.

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