Navigating a New Way
Access to food allergy triage provides patient with a proactive plan in hand, greater peace of mind.
It all started with a bit of garbanzo beans. Brandon Nakamura was visiting a friend’s restaurant, where he tried a gluten-free bun that, for highly allergic people like him, sounded pretty innocuous. However, almost immediately, Brandon’s mouth started to tingle. By the time he left the restaurant and had returned home to retrieve his epinephrine medication (EpiPen), the allergic reaction had spread quickly, making his lips, the area around his eyes, and his hands and feet swell up like a balloon. Rashes and hives covered his entire body. It was a classic case of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic attack.
“I knew I was allergic to gluten and soy, but apparently, I’m allergic to garbanzo beans—and a whole bunch of other beans—pretty bad,” Brandon says. “I had no idea that garbanzo was in the bun and really didn’t expect what happened. Right after I ate the bun, the tingling started in my mouth and then spread everywhere in my body—like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I looked like ‘scary monster guy,’ and it felt like someone was stabbing me all over. I didn’t know if I was going to die.”
It was a fairly new experience for Brandon, who was diagnosed by the emergency room after suddenly developing severe food allergies in July 2018. Because of a national shortage of EpiPens, it took weeks for him to get his prescription filled. Fortunately, having the pen in time saved him from a direr health care situation—even possibly losing his life.
After using the pen, Brandon reached out to his mom, Deanna Nakamura, who happens to be One Community Health’s (OCH) records team coordinator. The EpiPen instructions advised getting immediate medical help after using the pen, but Deanna was unable to get any assistance for her son from the local hospital. So she reached out on Brandon’s behalf to OCH, and he was connected by phone with Adam White, RN.
“I remember he was speaking in clear, full sentences, wasn’t disoriented, and wasn’t gasping for air, so those were all good signs,” Adam says. “Still, it was very serious, so after asking him a series of questions, we came up with a game plan for next steps because with anaphylaxis, it can swoop back around and hit you again, sometimes way harder, which is why it’s always recommended to have a low threshold for going to the ER even if you don’t want to go.”
Since the tele-support provided by Adam, Brandon has returned to OCH, registered as a patient, and chosen Kate McKenna, MD as his provider.
“I’ve had the best medical care—everyone has been super nice,” Brandon says. “I also really like that I’ve been given materials to take home and learn about my condition because sometimes when I’m at the doctor’s office, I kind of forget what I wanted to ask. They’ve also made it clear how important it is to get immediate medical care in the event of an allergy attack again, and I also need to use my EpiPen twice to lessen the odds of a second attack.”
Brandon is frustrated that in a flash, life has changed in a number of ways for him. He can’t eat most of the foods he used to and he has to religiously read food labels and be extremely cautious when eating at a restaurant, at a friend’s house or even at home. He’s joining the patient group that’s struggling with the national EpiPen shortage. And he’s adjusting to the fact that he has to be on guard, more proactive about his life—and protecting it—than ever before.
“This condition is so sneaky, it’s hard,” he says. “But I’m really glad I’ve gotten help from One Community Health. They were there when I needed them. And I am going to still need them because unfortunately these allergies are just part of who I am now, a part of me.”