Allergic from Surrey: ‘I ended up in intensive care because of my dad’s aftershave’
An entrepreneur spoke about the bullying she faced at school due to her severe allergies. Julianne Ponan had her first anaphylactic incident aged just two and has since experienced several episodes and once ended up in intensive care when she inhaled her father’s aftershave.
But the 33-year-old remembers feeling separated from her classmates because of the risk she faces with her allergies. This prevented her from attending birthday parties or sleeping over with her friends.
Julianne has multiple allergies from peanuts to perfumes and certain medications and her mother Yvette has helped her through some difficult times. “I know what it’s like to find that you’re having trouble breathing and you don’t even know what’s causing it,” Julianne said. “My first attack was at nursery and I collapsed, stopped breathing and was rushed to hospital. That’s where I found out I had the anaphylaxis.
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“I was tested for many things and had multiple allergies. It was very serious because it was airborne as well as drinking and touching. From an early age my mum had to avoid a lot of things – I couldn’t go to birthday parties, sleepovers, things like that.
“In elementary school, I had to sit on the allergy table. I sat alone and not with my friends. So it made me feel very isolated and not included, which I don’t think a child should feel like that. You end up being bullied for no reason.
She had once put nuts in her pocket as a joke at school, but she was lucky her mother had found them before Julianne had a chance to touch them. “She found them when I came home from school and she obviously walked right in and was really annoyed,” she said.
“Restaurant Eating Anxiety”
“It’s really about educating from the primary level. And unfortunately a lot of people said things like “you must have the worst diet ever because you can’t eat anything”, or “you can’t sit with us because you have allergies”, or “you can’t come to my house because my mom says you’re picky”.
“And then in addition, the anxiety of even going to someone’s house. So for me, I ended up getting very apprehensive about eating at someone’s house or eating out.
Julianne remembers one of the worst anaphylactic episodes she had at an Asian restaurant with her family. She said the restaurant told them it was completely nut-free.
“I touched it to my lip and literally had a massive anaphylactic allergy and had to be rushed to hospital. I was very afraid. I couldn’t breathe, I remember that one.
The owner of Creative Nature Superfoods, based in West Molesey, Surrey, has had quite a few attacks over the years and knows how to deal with symptoms very quickly. “I know when I should have for example an antihistamine, when I should take my EpiPen and when obviously I should call 999.
“I recently had an allergy to something in the office. Even though we have allergy training in our office, a few people froze while others didn’t. So it’s interesting to see how different people have treated it.
“But myself, I’m probably calmer now than I was when I was a kid and I also had a phobia of needles so I was running away from the EpiPen but also being very scared when you can’t breathe, you feel like you’re choking slowly, you’re afraid you won’t wake up by closing your eyes, it’s such a horrible and scary feeling, but your body kind of feels like it’s letting go.
“I was not taken seriously”
Julianne’s dedication to helping improve the lives of families living with allergies is tireless. In addition to lobbying on behalf of allergy sufferers in the press, social media and politicians, Julianne founded Creative Nature Superfoods 10 years ago. She’s launched a line of 14 top healthy, allergen-free foods for people like her.
Asked about the challenges she faced, she said: “Not being taken seriously. I looked very young at the time in addition to being a woman of color. I guess that also played a role. I didn’t care about trade shows. I went out for investments and they called me a little girl. But since then we have gotten better and better.
“We really want to become a household name for freeform and make sure anyone with an allergy doesn’t have to miss any of these sorts of things.”
Julianne, from Walton, said she received letters from children thanking her for allowing them to eat specific foods without having to worry about an allergic reaction. “For example, we had a letter saying, ‘thank you, you celebrated my birthday, I’ve never been able to eat a chocolate cake before’. We get loads of things on social media saying “I’ve never eaten Maltesers and now I can finally eat something that I think tastes the same,” she said.
“It really makes such a difference. I think it makes such a difference to everyone on the team when we get feedback like that because it shows that we really do make a difference to people.
She was recently named the first ambassador for the MedicAlert charity, the only charity in the UK to offer medical identification services. The MedicAlert Foundation has 57 years of experience as a charity helping as many people as possible to access its services. Their identifiers are worn on the pulse points like a bracelet or a necklace.
They will be seen in an emergency by first responders. This allows the best initial treatment to be quickly identified, including drugs not to be given.
“I am honored to have been asked to take on this role and raise awareness about medical ID cards. When you have a condition like mine, wearing something like this is easy and a no-brainer. This means that if I was unable to communicate, medical professionals could treat me safely,” Julianne said.
“I support this association alongside my mother Yvette. She suffered a sudden and unexpected brain aneurysm last year. Miraculously, she survived, but she may find communication difficult.
Following her recent work with MedicAlert, Julianne’s mother Yvette, who suffered an unexpected brain aneurysm a year ago, is also wearing one so first responders know her recent medical history.
MedicAlert CEO Kirsten Giles said, “We appreciate the enormous challenges faced by individuals, parents and families who suffer from allergies, whether it’s gaming, parties or going to the restaurant.
“Every activity requires careful planning, and being a MedicAlert member makes a lot of those things easier. We are delighted that Julianne is helping to raise awareness of our charity which provides allergy sufferers with the peace of mind they need to live life to the fullest.”