Avram Weissman is a man on a mission. Weissman, the father of eight beautiful children, two of whom have severe food allergies, is dedicated to protecting all children from emergency reactions caused by exposure to food allergens.
As Lawrence residents, Avram and his wife Elana are active members in our community. They know what it’s like to drop their son off at an ice-cream party only to discover that peanut butter is one of the flavors being served–and to see a plethora of nut toppings on every table.
And now that their eight-year-old daughter is thinking about spending this summer in sleepaway camp, Avram and Elana are concerned about the possibility that despite the camp being a designated nut-free environment, a “may contain nuts” chocolate sent in a care package from a parent might somehow make it past the camp office and into their daughter’s bunk.
“What is the greatest fear that keeps parents of allergic children up at night?” Weissman asks. “We know our children would never knowingly eat a peanut. We also know, however, that many people are uninformed about food allergies and are unaware that even the smallest amount of an allergen might trigger tragic consequences. We asked ourselves, ‘How do we get the message out to everyone that this is serious stuff? That it’s life-threatening?’ We need everyone to know about our children’s food allergies at all times and in every situation,” he adds. “Otherwise, how can we be sure that our children are safe?”
“Children with food allergies are at risk for life-threatening reactions as anaphylaxis,” explained Dr. Alissa Hersh, assistant clinical professor in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “Anaphylaxis can progress to death by respiratory failure or hypotensive shock. This is a real possibility. In 2013, a young Lawrence resident, Giovanni Cipriano, died of an anaphylactic reaction to a peanut-containing food. Anaphylactic reaction can happen in response to foods, medication, and insect stings.”
As the parent of two children with food allergies, Avram realized that protecting them from accidental exposure to food allergens was his priority. But what spurred him to action was what he refers to as his “Aha! moment.”
It all started with a text message from the children’s pediatrician. “We had recently brought our children in to be retested,” Avram explained. “A substantial amount of time had passed since the last tests, and we were hopeful that these results would show some promise. We didn’t expect that they had outgrown their allergies, but we did hope that their allergies had weakened.” He says, “Our ‘Aha! moment’ was the text informing us that our children’s allergies had worsened. That was what made us change our focus to prevention and to dedicating ourselves to protecting our kids from any contact with the foods they are allergic to, wherever they may be. I decided to do something to help alert people to my family’s and other families’ food allergies.”
After selling his Inwood-based technology company in 2014 and stepping down as CEO, Avram decided to focus on inventing a device to help people with food allergies. Utilizing his technology expertise and business acumen, he created an alert system involving a wristband and linked smartphone app. AllerGuarder, Avram’s product, launched via its Kickstarter campaign this past week.
AllerGuarder is a Bluetooth-enabled wristband that warns those who have downloaded the free app that a person with allergies is nearby. The children who have life-threatening allergic reactions would be connected to their family and friends through the app. Whenever a child is nearby, the bracelet beeps an alert, thereby notifying those who have the app.
Additionally, the app provides information regarding the specific foods the wristband wearer is allergic to, and how the allergies can be triggered–by ingestion, by touch, or through the air. It also allows trusted friends to view private information about the allergy patient, such as name and emergency information.
Non-friends can still download the app and receive alerts, but they wouldn’t be privy to detailed information. It would just sound an alert.
“At this time, we have limited options available to help patients with food allergies to be safe,” Dr. Hersh told the 5TJT. “AllerGuarder is unique because it offers another layer of protection for our children. AllerGuarder alerts you when a person with food allergies is present, making you more mindful when offering a meal or snack. If a child is wearing a conventional medical-alert bracelet, an adult may not notice it if the child is wearing long sleeves or is playing in another room. In contrast, the AllerGuarder does not require the adult to see the alert bracelet nor does it require that the child be responsible for alerting the adult. Rather, it is the eyes and ears on the phone–looking out and listening for the child or adult with allergies and keep them safe at all times.”
Dr. Hersh stressed the importance of promoting community awareness about food allergies and the risks of exposing patients to food allergens.
“We are a community and we have a responsibility to one another,” said Dr. Hersh. “Each citizen deserves to have their health needs respected–especially when it is a matter of life and death. Just as one would be irresponsible to feed a diabetic a sugar-laden meal, it is equally irresponsible to feed someone food they are allergic to. The difference is that in the allergic patient, the time to respond is seconds to minutes, and the slightest error or mistake can be grave.” Dr. Hersh adds, “We must all try our best to be respectful of each other. Get-togethers, birthday parties, weddings all bring us together with family and friends. Let us be mindful of our friends and neighbors and ask if there are any dietary needs or restrictions when we have company. One out of 13 children today has a food allergy. I beseech all community members to learn how to use an epinephrine auto-injector. Please watch the live training on epipen.com.”
To learn more about the AllerGuarder wristband and sign up for the newsletter, visit www.allerguarder.com. To pre-order the wristband at a substantial discount, visit Kickstarter.com and search for AllerGuarder. If you have any questions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.