By Eric Parry
SALEM — Chris Giuliano never orders french fries from a fast-food restaurant.
It doesn't mean he doesn't like them, he just doesn't know if they will make him sick.
Chris, 13, is just like any other teenager who likes to play hockey and perform in school plays.
But he is also allergic to fish, shellfish, peanuts, legumes and sesame seeds.
Chris hopes that after a trip to Washington next week to ask lawmakers to pass a food allergy bill, coping with such allergies may be easier for other kids someday.
He is one of 80 youngsters from across the country chosen by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network to speak to Congress on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 about a bill that would fund food allergy research and help schools manage students who have such allergies.
Chris said he applied because he wanted to help others with similar problems. "It's going to be a good feeling," he said.
He's already written letters to New Hampshire's lawmakers and requested a meeting to discuss the legislation, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act.
Eating seems so simple, but each meal can pose challenges for someone with food allergies, said Chris' mother, Karen Giuliano. Chris said he has to read the label of each item to make sure it won't make him sick.
Eating in restaurants or at summer camp can be even more challenging but Chris said most restaurants he has been to were accommodating. "It's not unusual for the chef to come out and check that everything is OK," he said.
But there's always surprises, and nuts can be hidden ingredients in some foods.
Anything breaded almost always contains sesame seeds; ice cream often contains traces of nuts; and even chili is sometimes made with peanut butter.
Fried foods almost always have ingredients that can make him sick, Chris said.
Although his mom is a big help when it comes to shopping for the family, Chris said he's had to learn to check food labels on his own.
"I'm pretty independent knowing what I can and can't eat," he said.
Having food allergies has also humbled Chris and made him realize there are worse problems than having to check labels before taking a bite. "I'd much rather have a food allergy than be paralyzed," he said.
The last time Chris had a serious problem was when his family ate at a restaurant to celebrate his eighth birthday. Without thinking, he ate a carrot off his mother's plate while she was eating fish.
Chris had to take a quick shot from his EpiPen, a device that automatically injects a dose of epinephrine to fight the reaction, but he was fine. Without the injection, Chris's throat could swell up and cause him to suffocate.
"We carry an EpiPen with us all the time," Karen said.
Chris was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at 16 months but it wasn't until age 7 that he learned he was allergic to fish and shellfish. The sesame seed allergy has progressively become worse as he gets older, Chris said.
"You have to get to know what your own tolerance is," he said.
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