Sussex teen's peanut allergy less severe after new treatment

Sometimes life throws you something unexpected. 

"I couldn't have some of the stuff, and my mom was bringing some stuff that I could eat," said Andrew Christiansen, who's allergic to peanuts. 

For the past 14 years, Christiansen and his parents have had to ensure that all of his food is prepared without peanuts.

Andrew Christiansen as a baby. (Photo provided by Jennifer Christiansen) 

"We were very cautious what we brought around him. We were very cautious of who he was around and what they were eating at the time," said Jennifer Christiansen, Andrew's mom.

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In June 2022, everything changed with Dr. Barry Pelz and his team's program at Children's Wisconsin. 

"It is a really exciting breakthrough that allows people with a food allergy to peanut to potentially be able to tolerate accidental exposure to peanut," said Dr. Pelz. "When we do this, our hope is that the side effects will be very mild. Side effects do happen, and because we're giving this orally, a lot of the side effects we run into are along the lines of itching in the mouth, irritation of the throat, some stomach discomfort, maybe some nausea." 

The treatment uses an FDA-approved peanut protein, in powder form, called Palforzia

"We can create this protection by slowly exposing the immune system to really small doses of the allergen and gradually building up that exposure over time," Dr. Pelz said. 

After several visits to Children's and taking his doses under his doctor's supervision, Christiansen continues his treatment at home.

"As we get into higher doses, the dose is a little too big for a capsule, so it comes in a sachet. You can imagine like a sugar packet," Dr. Pelz said.  

Dr. Pelz said Christiansen will have to take Palforzia every day for the rest of his life to help prevent a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. 

The treatment means he can do things he couldn't do before, like eating cheese curds prepared at the concessions stand of a Packers game. 

Andrew Christian at a Packers game with his father, where he got to try cheese curds. (Photo provided by the Christiansen family) 

"Which was really weird but, like, felt good to be able to do what other people are doing," Andrew Christiansen said.   

For his mom, the treatment means more freedom and less anxiety around family gatherings, like this year's Thanksgiving dinner.

"He got to eat what everybody made; as long as there was no peanut, we didn't have to read labels of all those ingredients," Jennifer Christiansen said. 

Andrew enjoying Thanksgiving dinner. (Photo provided by the Christiansen family) 

After all those years of warning parents about food allergies, Dr. Pelz can now offer a little bit of hope. 

"Now, we finally have something tangible that we can offer and something that really can make a big difference in people's lives and… it's exciting," he said. 

Currently, the treatment is only offered for children ages 4 to 17. 

"Original studies did look at this in adults. It didn't show the types of outcomes we saw in kids, so at the moment, it's not approved for people over the age of 18," Pelz said.

He told FOX6 there are ten children in the program right now.   

"The ultimate goal would be to cure it, and we're not there yet," the doctor said.