Resiliency. It is the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds–trauma, tragedy, personal crises, plain ‘ole’ life problems–and bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful. It’s important because this is what we need to do when faced with life’s inevitable difficulties. (https://www.resiliency.com/what-is-resiliency/)
The way life comes at you, from all sides, it really is the only answer. Face forward, fight, overcome and never give up.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (73): Eat, Pray, Love
“My kids are very resilient. They have been my strength and my son dealing with his food allergies… they are just amazing. All my kids finished at the top of their class , they worked hard and they still work hard and I’m so proud of all of them. Daniel’s Dad would be so proud of him, how well he did this past year and a half, I was just feeling that pride when I wrote to you. So I just wanted to share, I was bursting with pride.” – Randy Berman Reisfeld
Pride is exactly what Randy was feeling when she reached out to me just a few weeks ago. Not only pride, but also to share her son’s story, one of great accomplishment for overcoming the hurdles to get where he is today.
Daniel Reisfeld recently finished his senior year as Valedictorian at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Maryland. His speech centered around this one quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”
I might add a line… never forget, everyone has a story.
This is an excerpt from Daniel’s speech that day:
“Hard work and motivation is the key to success. I know that I would not be at the point I am today without the work ethic and motivation that I have. And for that I would like to thank a few special people. First, I want to thank my teachers, who have motivated me in the classroom to be the best student that I can be. I want to thank my friends, who when school became stressful, offered a break to uplift my spirits. I want to thank my mother, who always encouraged me to do my best at whatever I did and always offered her support. I want to thank my sisters, who are always there for me whenever I need anything. And lastly I want to thank my father, who although is no longer with us, has given me the utmost motivation to get to where I am today and make him proud.”
A moment of pride, a sense of accomplishment and deep reflection.
Just 18 months prior, Daniel lost part of his motivation and had to regain his momentum, when his Dad Bill Reisfeld passed away after complications from kidney surgery. So even before his grand moment up on stage, Daniel and his sisters had experienced deep sorrow, but it’s not the only challenge Daniel has faced head-on in life.
For nearly all of his life Daniel has faced an enemy, one which will never completely retreat. He can battle back, but he cannot defeat it, at least until some miracle of modern medicine is created. Daniel has severe food allergies.
From the time he was only ten months old Daniel and he had a severe reaction to his mom’s breast milk, it has been a constant in his life…his body’s aversion and severe allergic reaction to certain foods we all readily consume: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, peas, sesame, mustard and lentils. If he eats these, he can break out in hives, swell up, stop breathing…and without swift treatment… much worse.
Daniel is not alone, 15 million Americans have food allergies, including those at risk for life-threatening reactions. It means constantly being on watch for what foods you touch and those you consume. Food is life, but for those with severe allergies, it comes down to a simple equation, don’t eat what could potentially kill you.
Daniel’s mom Randy says when Daniel was first diagnosed it was an eye-opening event for the entire family: “I’m an occupational therapist”, says Randy. “I was working with special needs children and there was a child I was helping to care for who had food allergies. I thought how could someone be that allergic to food? But when Daniel was diagnosed I learned a lot. And over the past 18 years the awareness, support and information surrounding this has been amazing. And Daniel has been amazing.”
Randy says from the time Daniel could speak, he was on top of his game, making sure others knew he had to be careful: “I remember even at the kid birthday parties he would tell his friends to wash their hands just in case they had touched a food which would cause him harm. Every step has been a big one, from preschool through high school. I thought it might be an issue, because of the allergies, for Daniel to socialize or to play sports, but he has never let it hold him back.”
She continues, “he played football, basketball, and baseball. Daniel talked with the coaches and let them know his situation. He made sure his friends were aware. In high school everything revolves around food. Sometimes Daniel would eat beforehand and then go out with his friends. He also joined the youth group, BBYO, (B’nai Brith Youth Organization), and his chapter friends would make sure they would eat at the places where Daniel could as well.”
But some challenges seemed to big to overcome. Randy says Daniel never went to sleep away camp because she didn’t know how they would be able to feed him there. But with BBYO, there were overnight conventions Daniel wanted to attend, especially one in Dallas, Texas. She says she didn’t know how Daniel could possibly make the trip, but he really wanted to go, so he convinced her he would take his own sandwiches and his “safe” foods. Daniel made it work and Randy says he had the “best time”.
Daniel became President of his BBYO chapter and attended a leadership program at Capital Camps, a program which ran for three weeks, all that time away from home. Randy says if she knew now what is possible, compared to what she knew years ago, then Daniel could have easily attended sleep away camp, but the prevent defense kept her from letting him do too much on his own.
Daniel’s constant companions are two epinephrine (adrenaline) injectors, more commonly called “epipens”, an inhaler and Benadryl. Epinephrine is a medication that can reverse the severe symptoms of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. The flood of chemicals released by your immune system during anaphylaxis can cause you to go into shock; your blood pressure drops suddenly and your airways narrow, blocking normal breathing. In short, not treated properly in a timely fashion, the person can die.
Randy says on two or three occasions Daniel has had to use the epipen, including once when he ate pancakes he did not know were made with milk. He started having trouble breathing and started to swell, his airways closing. Daniel used the epipen and then followed “standard procedure”. This procedure after use of a epipen is to call 9-1-1 and take a trip to the emergency room for monitoring, mainly because of the secondary reaction, which can occur hours later and prove fatal. Just last year a 13-year-old girl with a peanut allergy went into anaphylactic shock and died after eating a nighttime snack at a California camp, (http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/health-and-medicine/article2596198.html).
Death from food allergies is not a common occurrence, but how many events in life which leave us all in shock are ever planned? So Daniel, just like millions of others with these allergies, must constantly be on alert. Don’t touch, don’t eat, be aware.
When Daniel was younger Randy says he sat at a nut-free table in school, until he wanted to be with his friends. His friends learned to be careful, right along with Daniel, though there were a few instances of taunting, and one instance in high school sports, where as a prank, someone put crushed peanut butter crackers in Daniel’s locker. The family got the school involved, Daniel’s coaches involved and all was resolved. It’s no joke – a prank could prove fatal.
But situations like those are few and far between and Randy says Daniel’s closest friends are just incredibly supportive and accommodating.
Daniel is the biggest advocate on his own behalf. And as the best of the best always do, Daniel has overcome and refused to let his food allergies stop his forward progress. He has excelled in sports and academics.
I see it fitting to let Daniel wrap up this story with his words. I can’t think of a better way to end then with another excerpt from Daniel’s valedictorian commencement speech to his senior class. It takes someone with vision to lead, nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished by those who think small. Daniel Reisfeld has decided to live the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson and encourage others to go in life “where there is no path and to leave a trail”:
“Tonight, we stop being followers and become leaders, forming trails that others will come to follow. Yes, I know that it may seem easy to take that first job you find, hold back your belief against a majority, or keep a genius idea tucked in your imagination. But is this the best that you can do? Why take that first job you find, when you have the ability to be an entrepreneur of your own company? Why hold back your beliefs, when you can speak out and lobby to congress and create change? Why keep that genius idea tucked in your head, when you can help it become a reality and save millions of lives? All of these things are possibilities. You just have to go for them.
Class of 2015, we are at a crossroads. We are now high school graduates and we all have unique opportunities that we can pursue. Each of us has to decide in what direction we are going, and what opportunities we will take. Are we going to take the easy path with markings all along it, or are we going to venture off the path and find out what else is possible? We are all capable of great things, but it is up to us whether we get to the place we want. Like I said earlier, we are now the sole authors of our book and it is up to us to determine how far our stories may go. Be followed, don’t be a follower. Do what you want to do, even if means going off the beaten path.
Thank you and congratulations to all.”
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
(To learn more about food allergies and for support, tools and resources visit: https://www.foodallergy.org/)
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Emmy Winner, USHEALTH Advisors
Author, The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
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