Jamie Hanley's Story

  • Jamie on her third birthday.
  • Jamie on her fourth birthday.
  • Jamie with her mother Diana.

Jamie Hanley’s experience with food allergies began at 11 months old, when she took a few small bites of her mom’s ravioli, broke out in severe hives and landed in the emergency room.

At first, Jamie reacted only to eggs and then later to peanuts. By the time she was 3 and a half years old, the list of foods Jamie couldn’t eat had ballooned to 16. 

“Seemingly everything she ate was causing her to break out in hives, swelling and mild respiratory symptoms, which at times were more severe than others,” said her mother, Diana.

A recent report in Pediatrics indicates that pediatric food allergies may be more common than previously thought. About 6 million children, or 8 percent, have food allergies and nearly 39 percent of those children have a history of severe reactions to food.

The Hanleys’ answer to Jamie’s allergies came in November 2010 when Jamie’s pediatrician recommended she visit National Jewish Health in Denver. Jamie and her parents spent seven days at National Jewish Health in the Pediatric Day Program under the care of world-renowned pediatric allergy physician David Fleischer, MD.

The Pediatric Day Program is a unique, one- to two-week program that allows children and their families to work with a variety of specialists for diagnosis, treatment and disease management. Many families come to National Jewish Health as their “last resort.” They are exhausted after visiting specialist after specialist without results. National Jewish Health finds answers when others cannot.

Under the supervision of Dr. Fleischer and his staff, Jamie underwent food challenges to identify whether she is allergic to specific foods.  The food challenge is used worldwide as the gold standard in food-allergy testing, and the double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge, most often used in research, was first introduced at National Jewish Health. 

The food challenge proved that Jamie’s previous skin and blood tests showed many false positive reactions, indicating that she was testing positive to certain foods and told she was allergic to them when she likely wasn’t.  Dr. Fleischer diagnosed Jamie with chronic idiopathic urticaria, or chronic hives of an unknown cause. Jamie really was allergic to only eggs, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. Dr. Fleischer also explained that other than her reactions to those foods, Jamie’s hives and swelling resulted from either a viral infection or chronic urticaria.

Jamie’s parents finally know how to manage their child’s condition. “I don’t know if Dr. Fleischer and his staff understand how much they altered Jamie’s life. She lives a full life now,” Diana said.

Just recently, Jamie, now 4 years old, asked if she can go on an airplane to visit Dr. Fleischer in Denver. When Diana asks Jamie about Dr. Fleischer, Jamie, says, “Dr. Fleischer gave me my food back!”


How the Child Life Program Helps

Some of the tests and treatments for children with food allergies can be stressful, uncomfortable and even painful for children. That’s when the Child Life Program at National Jewish Health comes in.

The free program helps children and their families cope with illness, treatment and the overall healthcare experience. Trained child life specialists provide health education, preparation for medical procedures, distractions during painful procedures, developmentally appropriate play and recreation, creative arts and emotional support for patients and families. They also provide small gifts, mostly toys, for the children after painful tests and when they achieve important goals, and children have access to two fully stocked play rooms.

Diana said the Child Life Program was one of the best parts of Jamie’s treatment. When Jamie would return from a difficult treatment, Child Life Specialist Destiny Jara would take Jamie’s hand and lead her to the playroom where Jamie would choose a toy and return to being a normal 3-year-old.

The Child Life Program is largely possible because of generous donations. On July 4, 2011, the Hanleys will walk the 10-kilometer Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta to raise money for the Child Life Program.

“As it stands right now, I can walk 5 kilometers on sheer will,” Diana said. “I need your (donors’) help to motivate me the rest of the way.”

To donate to the Child Life Program in support of the Hanleys’ walk in the Peachtree Road Race, make a donation today. When you fill out the online donation form, indicate that you designate your gift to go to the Child Life Program. All donations will go directly to support the program.

The Child Life Program also appreciates donations to help stock its therapeutic playroom and outdoor playground. To see a list of items it needs, visit the Child Life Program Wish List.


Learn more about how you can support patients at National Jewish Health