Mom develops app to help navigate food allergies, connect families

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Imagine every decision you make could have life or death consequences? That’s what it’s like for many people with food allergies. The potential for danger is everywhere. Inspired by her own daughter -- a local mom created a tool to ease the burden.

Nuts, eggs, milk, wheat and soy – they’re the most common allergens. Consider the numbers – one out of every 13 children has a food allergy. That comes out to about two kids in every classroom.

Dr Ruchi Gupta, Lurie Children’s pediatrician: “A recent study we did we found, of all kids with food allergies, half of them have been to the emergency room in their lifetime.”

Susie Hultquist, Mother and app developer: “It is the thing that keeps a food allergic parent up at night.”

Susie Hultquist’s 14-year-old daughter lives with the life-threatening condition. It’s something they learned about when Natalie first tried peanut butter at three years old.

Susie Hultquist: “She was wheezing, coughing. We did not even know what an auto injector was. We didn’t have one in our home. It came down on us pretty hard to hear how her life was going to change. A lot of work went in to just trying to let her live the fullest life possible, but then as life went on it was things like wanting to attend overnight camp or go on a trip with a friend. As a middle schooler wanting to go with her friends to get an ice cream cone.”

The questions – and the fear -- sparked an idea.

Susie: “I’ve always felt that there was a mom out there just like me who had a peanut and tree nut allergic child that probably had a bunch of restaurants she could recommend, or if she was going to come to Chicago I could recommend to her, but we didn’t know each other.”

Now they do – and thousands, even millions more – all connected through an app Susie created called Spokin – a forum for the food allergy community, personalized for each user.

Susie Hultquist: “You’ll only see food products and recipes that match your food allergies. It’s hard work to be able to figure that out, and in seconds to be able to see what other people are recommending is so helpful.”

And the app helps spread the word about hidden dangers – ingredients that may not be listed on a menu.

Susie Hultquist: “The vigilance is 24-7. These kids are exhausted, and they’ve had so many people so protective over them.”

There are recommendations for restaurants, groceries, hotels, airlines and resorts.

Susie Hultquist: “There’s so much knowledge in the food allergy community, and we’re harnessing that.

Dr Gupta: “So instead of me trying to research all the best restaurants, all the best safe snacks for my kids, they are doing it for me and I’m getting a clean list. And I’m also able to connect with other families who have the same allergies. The number one thing for families who have food allergies is to stay connected and to learn from each other.”

The Spokin app is free and available for IOS users. Susie is raising funds to build the app for the android mobile operating system.