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Minnesota Vikings Running Back
Adrian Peterson

Stays in the Game with His Anaphylaxis Action Plan

by Jessica Webb Errickson

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Adrian Peterson

On the football field, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is virtually unstoppable. In fact, in 2012, after rehabbing from a knee injury, the football star came back stronger and faster than ever, nearly breaking the all-time record for rushing yards in a single season. He was even named the NFL’s MVP of the 2012 sea­son. But during training camp for that MVP season, Adrian was blindsided when a bowl of seafood gumbo, a food he’s eaten and loved his whole life, caused him to experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

In an interview with Coping maga­zine, Adrian shares how he discovered his adult-onset food allergies and ex­plains how his anaphylaxis action plan keeps him in the game.

How did you find out about your severe food allergy?
I first experienced anaphylaxis during training camp in 2012. We had seafood gumbo for lunch that day. Seafood has always been my favorite food, so I was pretty pumped to get it. I ate two bowls of the gumbo and went back to my room to rest up for the afternoon practice.

That’s when the anaphylaxis symp­toms began. At the time, I didn’t know that’s what was going on – my eyes were itching, my throat was starting to swell up. Something told me to get up and look in the mirror. When I did, I saw that my eyes were swollen. My throat started to swell up even more, and I couldn’t breathe through my nose. So I called my athletic trainer, Eric Sugarman, and explained what I was experiencing. Immediately he said, “I’ll come up there as fast as I can. Don’t go anywhere.”

When he got to my room, he had an EpiPen, and he showed me how to use it. I administered the EpiPen to my right thigh, and my throat immediately started to loosen up. I was then able to seek further medical assistance. After train­ing camp, I set up an appointment with an allergist, and I found out that I was allergic to shrimp, scallops, and lobster. That’s how I was introduced to the world of anaphylaxis.

“A misconception about having a food allergy is that it makes you weak and limits your potential. But I am a professional athlete, and for me that hasn’t been the case at all.”

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Had you ever experienced an allergic reaction to shellfish or any other food before this?
That was my first time ever experienc­ing it. A lot of people think that kids are the only ones at risk for life-threatening allergic food reactions, and that’s not the case. Here I am at 28 years old – 27 at the time – I had eaten seafood my entire life, and BAM! Just out of the blue, I had this allergic reaction.

Has having food allergies affected your ability to play football?
On the football field, it hasn’t affected me. I still feel strong and powerful out there. A misconception about having a food allergy is that it makes you weak and limits your potential. But I am a professional athlete, and for me that hasn’t been the case at all. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is just having a game plan, which includes making sure that I avoid my allergic triggers and have access to two epi­nephrine auto-injectors.

Do you have to take any special precautions when you’re traveling or dining out?
I have to make sure that my entree doesn’t contain my allergic triggers. When you’re dining out, it’s important to ask questions just in case the fine print doesn’t say whether there’s something in the food that might be an allergic trigger for you.

What inspired you to speak out about the dangers of anaphylaxis?
After experiencing anaphylaxis during training camp, I had time to really think about the situation. What if I had just gone to sleep? What if I hadn’t picked up the phone and called Eric to tell him my symptoms? I told him that my throat was swelling up and my eyes were itchy, and from that he knew, “Hey, he’s hav­ing an allergic reaction. I need to bring up an EpiPen.” I realized that, even if you don’t have life-threatening aller­gies, just by having that knowledge, you can be ready to take action if needed. It’s my duty to use my platform to bring awareness and educate people.

What is the most important message you want to send to others with life-threatening food allergies?
Carry your epinephrine wherever you go, and have your action plan ready because you never know when you could encounter an allergic trigger. That way, you’re prepared. I always like to go back through my action plan: know your allergic triggers, make sure you avoid them, always have access to two epinephrine auto-injectors, and then seek emergency assistance if anaphylaxis occurs.

 

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2014.