At 6 months old, Bailey Wilkes was diagnosed with life-threatening allergies to more than 20 different types of food, including eggs and most kinds of nuts. For most of her life, her diet has been severely restricted.
“Sometimes, allergies can be really scary,” Bailey, now 6 years old, said.
But now, thanks to a unique program in Southern California and a grant from United Healthcare Children’s Foundation, Bailey’s medical situation could soon change.
Bailey was recently accepted into the Southern California Food Allergy Institute’s Tolerance Induction Program, which aims to help children overcome food allergies through a treatment regimen uniquely tailored to each patient.
However, the program wasn’t fully covered by any available commercial health plan, meaning that Bailey’s parents would have to pay roughly $13,000 out of pocket a year for the four years Bailey is expected to be in the program. Additionally, the family would have to pay regular travel costs to fly with Bailey from their home in Vancouver to Southern California for treatment.
To help cover the cost, Bailey’s family applied for a grant through the United Healthcare Children’s Foundation that is designed to help families that have a gap in their coverage pay for medical costs they might otherwise forgo.
The Wilkes received the grant, and Bailey was able to begin treatment.
“We believe the grants make a difference,” said United Healthcare Children’s Foundation CEO Matt Peterson. “We’ve helped almost 30,000 families since 2007. That’s over $61 million in donated funds. It’s our way of helping out.”
The maximum grant amount per family is $10,000.
After receiving the grant, Bailey began receiving treatment at Southern California Food Allergy Institute. First, her doctor performed in-depth blood work that determined all her allergies, and now she’s working to build up a tolerance to those allergens.
For example, Bailey was highly allergic to sesame seeds. To build up a tolerance, Bailey ate one gummy bear with trace amounts of sesame in it at the same time every day for 10 weeks. Then, her doctor had her eat a large amount of sesame seeds in one sitting and then had her exercise for five minutes, because a high body temperature encourages an allergic reaction.
After five minutes of exercise, Bailey showed no reaction to the sesame, meaning her body could now tolerate the food. Bailey then had to eat sesame seeds every day for a year to keep her tolerance up.
For each allergy Bailey overcomes, she receives a stamp in an allergy passport. Since starting the program in September of 2020, Bailey has received a stamp for sesame seeds and pecans. Now, she’s working to overcome egg whites and peanuts.
“It’s a hard road as a parent for your child to have a serious medical situation, and we just kind of make the best of it as we can,” said Amanda Wilkes, Bailey’s mom. “This program has changed her life, and as she becomes more and more desensitized to certain foods, she’ll have more opportunities to expand her diet.”
“Sometimes, it’s kind of fun,” Bailey said about the program.
Velo and Vines cycling event
Bailey and her family were featured at a cycling event held by United Healthcare Children’s Foundation on June 11 in Healdsburg, Calif., called Velo and Vines. The event raises money for grants like the one the Wilkes received and is an opportunity for donors to meet the children supported by the grants.
This year, the event raised $150,000.
“It’s really done to bring people together to ride for wellness and for the children to interact with the benefactors,” Peterson said. “Several families, including Bailey’s parents, were at the event. It’s important that families interact with donors, that they understand what they’re doing together. It’s fruitful for everyone involved.”
To start the event, Bailey and her parents spoke to attendees about Bailey’s condition. Then, Bailey kicked off the ride on her new bike, and she remembers riding so fast that she had to be told to slow down.
After the ride, Bailey enjoyed a doughnut that she could eat that she covered in sesame seeds and sprinkles.
“After that, I remember telling jokes to all my friends,” Bailey said.
Amanda Wilkes is grateful for the support Bailey has received from Southern California Food Allergy Institute and the United Healthcare Children’s Foundation, and she dreams of the day when Bailey will achieve “food freedom.”
“One in 13 kids have severe food allergies,” she said. “Some parents might not know where to begin, or they might not be able to afford treatment. I want parents to know that there’s places like this grant program that can offer help.”