Noah Garcia is like all other three-year-old children. He laughs; he cries and he plays like anyone else his age should in West Liberty. It only takes a few minutes with him to see the innocence of childhood exude from the smile on his face.
But Noah differs from everyone else in one life-altering way, he's severely allergic to milk and peanuts; so much so that merely touching the foods can lead to death.
This fear has affected his family everyday for years.
“It’s difficult to describe the anguish you feel to see your child’s face all swollen and blotchy," said his mother Jerra Garcia, "And even more difficult to describe the absolute terror and panic when you realize he’s struggling to breathe.”
Noah's family, which also includes his father, Ivan, and siblings Sophia, 6, and Oliver, 1, developed a lifestyle around the allergy. They adapted a peanut-less and milk-less life as a temporary solution in West Liberty.
But their solution was only temporary. Noah was diagnosed with the allergies at six-months-old, he was rushed to the ER for swelling up and being unable to breathe after drinking milk formula.
Since then he's had many similar, and scary, incidents. The family carries around epi-pens 24/7 to clear the airways in his throat in case of an attack. Since merely touching the foods caused outbreaks, he's had to live a protected life.
But, the greater the problem, the greater the miracle. And the Garcias may have just found their miracle.
In September of 2012, Noah began a new therapy at the Pediatric & Adult Allergy center in Des Moines. They learned about the Oral Food Challenge, based out of Dallas, Texas.
It's been around for two years, and deals with milk, peanut and egg allergies. According to the center, results have been good, anyone who has completed the program has been successful in beating his or her allergy.
The program introduces the potentially fatal food in extremely small doses, increasing the increments over time. Under the guidance of Dr. Whitney Molis, the Garcias began by focusing on Noah's affliction toward milk.
His mother baked him a muffin made with milk, which he ate in a controlled environment at the center. Noah had an adverse reaction at first, so the amount of milk in the recipe was reduced further.
Each week he and his family returned to the center, and daily he was given muffins with larger portions of milk. By the end of the month, Noah could eat a muffin with a whole cup of milk, an absolutely unheard of outcome.
That was a big day for Noah, but only the beginning of a long process to wean him off an allergy that dominated his life.
Next up was cheese, a difficult step because milk in cheese is not baked. The first time he had a small amount, the family sat outside an emergency room just to be safe. While Noah reacted with hives and swelling, it was merely minimal. Then the slow process truly began.
"Kids move through this process at their own pace and with Noah we had to go very slow," his mother said. "Any sign of reaction meant going back to the previous dose for another week before trying to increase it again."
For nine months Noah stuck with a specific dose of cheese a day. After he could handle an ounce of it they introduced yogurt, followed cottage cheese and ice cream until the coup-de-gras, milk straight from the cow.
"It can be risky because patients can have severe reactions to the treatment, including anaphylaxis, so it’s important that it’s done under close guidance of the allergist," added his mother."
On Aug. 19, Noah took his first sip of milk ever in his young life. He had no reaction whatsoever. So, on Sept. 9, 2013, one year and four days after starting the program, Noah graduated from it, drinking the very substance that could have so easily killed him a few months before.
Now life is completely different for the Garcia family. After years of worry a sense of freedom has lifted them. To top it off, Noah has to drink milk now to insure he keeps a tolerance to it.
Imagine that, now he has to drink milk instead of avoiding it.
"Buying groceries after he graduated was an emotional and surreal experience for me. Because he needs dairy every day now, I found myself checking labels to find food containing milk instead of the opposite," said Jerra. "As I picked up a box of macaroni and cheese I got teary-eyed thinking about Noah trying it for the first time."
Noah will begin to deal with his peanut allergy in months to come. He will be enrolled in the same Oral Food Challenge, but with peanut butter increments instead.
However, peanuts are a different sort of food. Protein is Noah's main adversary when it comes to his allergy. It's the reason he reacts the way he does to milk and peanuts.
With milk, it could be baked in the muffin changing the toxicity of the protein to him, allowing his initial dose to be "dumbed down" in a sense.
But the protein in peanuts cannot be baked down. The process of introducing the offending agent will remain the same, but an extreme amount of caution will have to be taken when he starts with peanuts.
But his family still holds hope.
"For us, weekly trips to Des Moines are nothing compared to the peace of mind we will have knowing that a tiny amount of peanut would no longer cause a potentially deadly reaction for our son," Jerra said.
His family is eager to share his story, and tell others about a miracle treatment that changed their lives. As for Noah, he's still just like any other child.
Boy receives miracle treatmentJacob Lane · Wednesday, September 25, 2013