How handsome is this little guy in the middle headed off to Kindergarten?! His mom posted this picture and allowed me to share it because she wants people to know she feels better knowing the school her child attends will have a daily visual reminder of his allergies. Perfect! That was my goal when I designed the EpiPen® BackPack.
About myself, I am a single mom who obtained a license agreement from Mylan Pharmaceuticals to design and sell a EpiPen® BackPack that looks exactly like an EpiPen. I emailed Heather Bresch, the CEO, of Mylan and pitched my concept and she thought it was a great idea and allowed me to proceed with EpiPen® BackPack’s development. I was able to design, obtain licensure and manufacture the product anywhere in the US in one year! This means that there is a huge market for products that bring awareness and an added layer of protection for individuals who suffer from food allergies. We are in a new paradigm in our relationship with food and protecting kids. This simple EpiPen® BackPack is great vision for what is to come.
I have a MSAC degree and know the devastating effects of food allergies...anxiety, anorexia and death. As a mom of a food allergy child, I recognized the devastating effects food allergies played in my son’s ability to learn in kindergarten and first grade. At this very moment he is being tested for the gifted program at his school. If he doesn’t make it I will still be proud because I know he is smart and will go far in life. He has also overcome his food allergy anorexia disorder and that has been a real struggle for him. Did you digest that? Anorexia at five and six! His anxiety is greatly reduced as well. This took years of working with him using some of my favorite counseling techniques.
My son’s school nurse and other well-known Charter schools love the backpacks too, and I see them playing an important role in the education system. For instance, my son's teacher has a sign that clearly states the class is “peanut sensitive” on the door as you enter the classroom. I was happy to see that but the next day she asked me if it is okay if she eats nuts and seeds at her desk. What?! Many educators don’t understand the problems associated with peanut allergies. How can a student focus if he knows his teacher is eating his allergens? He can’t, he focuses on the fact that he may die from cross contamination or if she as much as coughs in his direction and a peanut particle landed on his lip (this was an actual fear). Schools are not doing a good job setting food allergy kids up for success and not providing full support for students that need it. When a food allergy kid struggles in school they give them additional afterschool, or special help during school hours. This takes funds away from kids with true learning disabilities and all the education system needs to do is provide a safe learning environment for all students. They fail miserably at this. There isn’t a blanket protocol either, there are “voluntary guidelines” from the CDC that most schools don’t follow. They are optional. Mention a 504 plan to the school and all of a sudden you are labelled as one of “those” moms.
I receive no compensation or support from Mylan, aside from a wonderful lady in legal counsel. Quite frankly I was devastated more than most people were when news hit the stands. EpiPen was Heather’s baby and the EpiPen® BackPack was my baby. All of my focus for the past two years has been on developing my product, with my own resources, on a shoestring budget. I was able to get the EpiPen® BackPack. into CVS, Walmart.com and even JC Penney was interested in placing an order this fall for the 2017 back to school season. All of my effort, money and hope for a safer world for kids stopped in two days. No wonder very few people have the initiative, gumption, shrewdness or acumen to try and make a difference in the world….and fewer find success. It is difficult to try and make a difference; when you have no support or political ties. No one cares what you have to say. I won’t delve far into my correspondence between Ms. Lhamon at the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, or my attempts to meet Senator Mark Warner who has a food allergy child and then went on to make this statement recently “Like many Virginians, my own family relies on the EpiPen. While I’m glad public pressure has pushed Mylan to take a step in the right direction by expanding financial assistance for some families, it isn’t enough. I still am concerned about the underlying economics around EpiPen’s list price, which remains unchanged. Financial assistance programs can help some consumers but do nothing to lower costs for employers, insurers, taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and the many consumers who aren’t even eligible for discounts. I still have many unanswered questions and look forward to a timely and thoughtful response to the questions I laid out in my letter to Mylan earlier this week.” Wow! Senator Warner didn’t seem to care enough to meet me to discuss alternative solutions to help food allergy kids, or return my phone calls. He did schedule me in to speak with a very young intern who appeared to be bored and seemed to care less but did state that Senator Warner will be interested because his child has a food allergy… Ironically, Senator Warner had a bowl of peanuts in his waiting area. Things that make you go hmmm. Nor will I discuss my visit to U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry where a Mr. Seigler in Pat Robert’s office told me to email him regarding my concerns about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) 2016 Act and its exclusion of food allergy kids…and received no reply. Not only did I call and email these individuals I went to Capitol Hill. But no need to drag history up, right? As someone with a counseling degree I like to focus on the positives and future possibilities. However, I read in the news today that Mylan Pharmaceuticals is under investigation by the NY Attorney General despite getting 65,000 participating school 700,000 free EpiPens. You can’t have it both ways folks. So I won’t discuss this right now…it got me nowhere the first time. I suggest they look inwards to find the reason why this whole issue took place.
It really is simple folks; that whole visual reminder thing that I envisioned for young school children. Parents could buy them; school districts could supply them. Whatever. That, to me, is impactful and will bring much needed food allergy awareness to society. More importantly it will provide our kids with an added layer of protection while they are at school. I may need to take a day job, but I’m not going to quit making my backpacks. I have faith that something good will come of this for our little ones; and hopefully Mylan recognizes the opportunity they have with people like me. Individuals who don’t jump ship when the going gets tough. The people that offer solutions. The visionaries. You cannot deny that the visual branding Mylan created was less than brilliant. You cannot deny that AllerGear has a deep passion for keeping children safe. Combine these two factors together and I think food allergy kids can begin to learn in a safer environment.
EpiPen® is a registered trademark of Mylan Inc. and is being used on this product under license from Mylan Inc.