Beyond the blue eyes, the blond hair and impish grin, 4-year-old Devin Berchtold is a study in contrasts.
Very much the little boy, he enjoys watching his favorite TV shows, hearing all about older brother Brenden’s day at school and eating his favorite candy, Skittles.
But another side is much older than his years – and is familiar with an EpiPen, a life-saving instrument that he has to keep close by in case he comes in contact with any number of food products that he is severely allergic to.
In meeting with the family for what was originally envisioned as a news article, I chose instead to treat this as an ‘Editor’s Notebook’ because that allows for some leeway in how we tell the story. It will also be a two-part article, beginning this week with a look at the family and how they have adapted.
The son of Scott and Danielle Berchtold of Escalon, Devin lives with his parents and brother Brenden, 8, a student at Van Allen Elementary School.
The family has slowly come to grips with the food allergies that were first discovered when Devin was still under a year old. They have made massive changes and are hopeful that they can also help bring about changes so that he will be able to attend school locally.
“He was diagnosed when he was nine months old,” explained mom Danielle. “I fed him yogurt … it almost killed him.”
Allergies to milk are something many children outgrow but Devin is not one of them. They also learned of his allergy to peanuts when he tried a bite of his mom’s peanut butter toast.
“He took a bite, spit it out, it stuck on his chin and he broke out in hives,” she said.
Living in an agricultural area, Danielle said husband Scott initially found it hard to give up his milk, but the family had to find a way to make their home a safe place.
The first year of Devin’s life was filled with finding out what foods he was allergic to – and it proved to be many – but the biggest problem was peanuts. Even peanut dust is potentially deadly for the youngster.
“We ate a lot of carrots and hummus,” Danielle said. “I threw basically everything in my pantry away.”
Devin is able to eat meat and vegetables and the family had a roast in the crock pot for dinner, with carrots, potatoes and onions. He also is fond of sugar and his mom’s homemade baked goods.
“He can eat way more than I can,” brother Brenden chipped in. “I have braces.”
“We needed to find alternatives for butter, milk and cheese,” added dad Scott, nothing that there are options available, but they are costly.
“I bake most of my own bread,” Danielle said. “And he can eat flour, I feel like we are blessed with that.”
The family has to steer clear of anything processed in a facility that deals in peanuts and purchase many products from the Enjoy Life company, which specializes in food products for those with allergies.
“For breakfast, he might have toast, sausage and bacon, he loves bacon,” Danielle said. “And he eats enough blueberries to sink a small ship.”
He also enjoys pancakes made with flaxseed and almond milk. He is slowly growing out of an allergy to eggs, as they are being introduced into his diet over time.
Devin, like most boys his age, enjoys playing with friends and is looking forward to Halloween. Mom Danielle said she will look for homes displaying Teal Pumpkins, which signify they have items for children with food allergies, non-candy options.
“His allergies don’t change who he is,” Danielle said of her son.
Both Scott and Danielle are educators and Danielle works part-time at El Portal Middle School, where she teaches English. As a teacher, her days are always busy, but she said just stopping off to pick up some fast food for dinner isn’t an option.
“I went for a year working full-time after his diagnosis,” she said, “but it finally became too much.”
She was pleased, however, to stay with the school district on a part-time basis.
“So much of our life has changed because of it, we have to find a balance between his safety and his freedom,” she said.
With Halloween on the horizon and Devin eager to attend school next fall, Danielle said she and Scott hope to provide the community with information about food allergies. She said there are many children dealing with a variety of allergies in the community and would like to see some measures taken to make local campuses safer for those children.
“Scott and I are both public school teachers, we believe in the system,” she said. “But we have to get to a point where life-threatening situations can be managed.”
Devin is very certain about what he likes – bacon, of course, his Skittles and a new art class he is taking through the local Happy Wish Company.
“I like to play freeze tag and regular tag,” Devin said. “Sometimes I make my own sandwiches. And dirt makes me cuter. My shirt told me that.”
For the family, they stay watchful and cautious, but also want to provide Devin with every opportunity to be outside the allergy bubble.
“We’re trying to stay true to him, do what’s best,” Danielle said.
Next week, a look at what steps can be taken locally to help make campuses safe for all children with food allergies.