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West Shore fundraiser serves up hope for kids with food allergies

Proceeds assist Oral Immunotherapy Research Program at BC Children’s Hospital
Tanya Gesslein, here with her son, Isaiah, is organizing the Skate For Food Allergies fundraiser on Saturdayday, Feb. 23 in support of the BC Children’s Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Tanya Gesslein)

Rick Stiebel/News staff

This fundraiser combines old fashioned family fun with plenty of food for thought on a new approach to treating food allergies in children.

Skate For Food Allergies aims to donate funds to the BC Children’s Hospital’s Oral Immunotherapy Research Program and raise awareness about the assistance the program provides for families dealing with food allergies, explained Tanya Gesslein, the event’s organizer.

“I can’t say enough about what BC Children’s Hospital has done for Isaiah,” she said regarding her son, who is allergic to peanuts. “There’s real hope now that he may be able to get over his allergy. Skate For Food Allergies is all about helping kids and families in similar situations. We’re so grateful for the help we’ve received, so we’re doing this to help others.”

The event takes place on Feb. 23 from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. as part of the regular family skate at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, with the regular rates for admission and skate rentals in place. There will be 50/50 tickets for sale and raffle prizes, and members of the Victoria Grizzlies hockey team will be on hand as well. “A couple of the players have food allergies. The Grizzlies have really stepped up in a big way,” Gesslein said. “They’re also selling 50/50 tickets at their game on Feb. 22, with a minimum prize of $500, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors.”

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Support from the community has been growing. Royal LePage Coast Capital Realty, Maxxam Insurance, Thrifty Food Colwood, Coast Capital Savings, Capital Direct, Padgett and Garside Signs & Displays have all provided support. The family business, Gesslein Mini Excavating is sponsoring the event as well.

Gesslein was inspired by a fundraising initiative in Quebec that raised more than $780,000, an amount that was matched by the Quebec government in 2017 for a new clinic and three-year pilot project at Sainte Justine Hospital to treat and possibly cure children with severe food allergies. Oral immunotherapy treatment, which was developed in the United States a few years ago, involves young patients taking progressive doses of the allergen orally for an extended period of time to desensitize the child or increase their tolerance. According to Statistics Canada results for 2017, 2.4 per cent of children are allergic to peanuts, and 6.9 per cent of children have some sort of food allergy.

Dr. Scott Cameron, a Victoria-based pediatric allergist and immunologist, said many pediatric allergists across the country are utilizing that approach, which is a radical departure from what was the norm just a few years ago when people were simply told not to eat that particular food. “We’re trying to do something similar here,” said Cameron.

“We currently have a waiting list of six months,” said Cameron, who is also a member of the allergy and immunology department at BC Children’s Hospital. “The whole goal of Skate For Food Allergies is to reduce those numbers.”

Gesslein believes the fundraiser could mark “the first little baby steps” towards making an enormous difference for children dealing with allergies on Vancouver Island.

Dr. Victoria Cook, a Victoria-based allergist who works closely with BC Children’s Hospital, will conduct a question and answer session on oral immunotherapy research between 4 and 5 p.m., following the family skate.

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