Special Report

Moncton boy battles several potentially fatal allergies

A 10-year-old Moncton boy is forced to navigate through life with many potentially fatal allergies.

Gibson Lemieux’s parents have transformed home into ‘safe zone’

For Gibson Lemieux, this is a hostile world as the 10-year-old boy is forced to navigate his life with an array of serious allergies.

He's anaphylactic to eggs, peanut, milk and any dairy derivative, such as cheese. That means the slightest exposure to these foods can cause him to break out in hives, leave him struggling to breathe or land him in the hospital.

Then there are Gibson's environmental allergies; he's sensitive to dust, mould, carpet, cleaners and pets.

Gibson Lemieux was allowed to eat his first meal at a fast food restaurant when he was nine years old. A Burger King guaranteed a hamburger and fries would not contain anything that would harm him. (Courtesy of Stephanie Lemieux)

"He's pretty much allergic to anything," says his mother, Stephanie Lemieux, as she pushes her grocery cart down the baking aisle. Lemieux carefully scans the shelves, pores over the labels, always asking the same question, "is it safe?" Her hyper-vigilance is essential because if Gibson eats the wrong food, he could die.

So Lemieux takes no chances. She buys nothing that is processed or pre-packaged and she makes practically everything from scratch.

The Lemieuxs are a family of five and their monthly grocery bill tops $1,500.

"I think to eat healthy costs a lot of money," Lemieux said.

Managing Gibson's allergies does create a financial burden, but it's nothing compared to the weight of worry.

Even at his young age, Gibson has had many bad days and two close calls.

When Gibson was three, Lemieux said he almost died after taking a sip of milk. She recalls that visit to the emergency room at a Moncton hospital.

"It took the hospital, I think, at least six EpiPens to get him to breathe," Lemieux said.

"They didn't think he was going to make it. When they called the respiratory department to come and save him and kicked me out. I wasn't even making a scene or anything. I was just standing there and they told me I shouldn't watch. On the fourth day, he got discharged and they told me, ‘Look next time we might not be able to save him.'"

Family home is a ‘safe zone’

Gibson, his little sister Romi and younger brother Austin sit on the living-room floor playing a game called Battle Strikers. Since that close call seven years ago, Lemieux has their made home a safe zone.

She attacks dust and nothing that could harm Gibson enters the house.

Lemieux said they made a family decision for all of them to follow Gibson's restricted diet.

"I want my house to be safe for him" Lemieux said.

"Say if I buy cheese and cut it, the knife's contaminated, the cutting board's contaminated, the dishwater's contaminated, the dishcloth's contaminated."

She said Gibson's like the "boy in the plastic bubble" except she and her husband, Mike, try not to cocoon him from the world. The parents want their son to feel normal.

They admit it's been a struggle at time and they have lost friends and family because others have not been understanding of Gibson’s allergies.

Mike Lemieux said he knows there are times when Gibson is left out. There are few play dates and no sleepovers.

"One of my biggest concerns is that he's going to get excluded from the other kids. Kids aren't going to want to play with him because he's too fragile," he said.

"He's a little different from the other kids. He's really got to protect himself from a lot of things and I'm afraid it's going to seclude him from just general play."

It's not something Gibson likes to talk about.

"Well it doesn't bother me that much," he says quietly.

The boy quickly adds, "I do wish I'd be able to get rid of all my allergies someday, but I don't think I'll be able to. A lot of doctors say because of my milk allergies and my nut allergies and my egg allergies are never going to go away because they are so serious."

Doctor reassures parents

Dr. Sandeep Kapur, Gibson's allergy specialist in Halifax, said most kids outgrow milk and egg allergies by Gibson's age.

"So to continue having milk and egg [allergies’ at this age, you're definitely in the minority," Kapur said.

He said many parents feel like their child is a ticking time bomb, so he said he tries to offer reassurance.

"With most of these kids, most children with food allergies do not have severe reactions. The vast majority end up with mild reactions, a small number go on to severe reactions," Kapur said.

"The problem is we can't predict what they're going to be. That's our problem. So therefore with all these kids we have to be prepared for that potential severe reaction."

Unconventional vacation

Being cautious has forced the Lemieuxs to get creative. They took their first two-week-long vacation when Gibson was eight years old.

It was an unconventional trip. They visited family friends and while Stephanie and her daughter stayed inside their friend's home, Mike and the two boys put up a tent in their friend's backyard.

Gibson couldn't didn't dare step foot inside the house because of the carpet and pets.

He'd only dash in to use the bathroom. Otherwise, he ate, played and slept outside.

Gibson also had a special treat when he was nine. A local Burger King made him a special burger and fries so he could have his first meal at a fast food restaurant.

His mother laughs about that vacation now. But she admits she loses sleep over things most parents don't think twice about, such as, where will her son work, will it be safe to attend university and what happens when he gets kissed.

She said there have been cases where people have gone into anaphylactic shock or had a severe reaction after kissing someone who had eaten something they were allergic to.

"Even if I sneak out and eat a piece of cheese, if I came home and kissed him and I'm talking three to four hours later, he'd have hives where I kissed him," she said.

With so many things to worry about, the Lemieuxs have chosen to approach life with humour and optimism.

"He's a tough kid, he's a smart kid, he's a brave kid. And as severe as things are there's always the fact that it could be a whole lot worse. He gets to live a life, he gets to have friends. We get to have a son that's just a great little kid," his father said.