Sinclair's Story: Reaching New Heights with Food Allergy

Sinclair climbing Aconcagua in Argentina, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere

Children who live with food allergies face many challenges. Sinclair, a junior in high school, has lived with severe peanut allergies all his life, but he has not let his allergies limit his dreams. He had his first severe anaphylactic reaction when he was nine months old –leading to the first of many emergency room trips. “Although we try very hard and are very vigilant about the foods he eats; in reality, this is very hard to do,” said Nancy, Sinclair’s mother. “To date, he has had at least 10 visits to the emergency room because of anaphylactic reactions to peanuts.”

She recalls a terrifying experience when Sinclair was 6 years old. On a plane trip from Louisiana to California, he broke out in hives, likely caused by an allergic reaction to the peanuts being served on the plane. When the plane landed in Dallas for a layover, they got off the plane and took him to a hospital where he was prescribed steroids and discharged. Taking the next available flight back, they arrived home late at night. The next morning, they found that Sinclair’s hives had worsened, prompting another trip to the hospital and further treatment with Benadryl and steroids. They waited for the reaction to subside, but that night, they realized that the reaction was getting worse, not better. For the third time in two days, they again rushed him to the hospital where he was ultimately given epinephrine, which finally stopped the allergic reaction.

After this terrifying incident, Nancy resolved to become actively involved in dealing with Sinclair’s food allergies. She learned how to administer epinephrine if needed. She worked with their school to create a nut-free table. Although Sinclair was initially resistant to sitting at the designated table, Nancy recalls how a close buddy gave up eating nuts at school to sit with Sinclair each day and help keep him safe. Nancy started reading all that she could about food allergies and soon heard about the food allergy immunotherapy studies that were being undertaken at Stanford. In 2014, Sinclair enrolled in the Peanut Oral Immunotherapy Study: Safety, Efficacy and Discovery (POISED).

Base Camp at Aconcagua

Today, Sinclair leads an active, inspiring life. In his sophomore year English class, he read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, sparking a passion for mountaineering. He started with ice climbing in the Sierra Nevada, but soon set his sights much higher. He wanted to climb Aconcagua in Argentina, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, at 22,838 feet. His mother, Nancy, was definitely not delighted with the idea. “He was still in the active phase of his immunotherapy study at the Center. To complicate matters, altitude and exercise increases the severity of his reactions to peanuts,” she said. Sinclair persisted. “He eventually wore me down and I agreed to discuss the possibility with Dr. Kari Nadeau and the clinical team at the Center,” said Nancy. “I would not discuss withdrawal from the POISED study or even taking a break from his daily dose of peanuts. This was not an option. Immunotherapy has likely saved his life and I would not allow any interruption to his therapy.”

Sinclair with Research Nurse Practitioner Whitney Block in the Center clinic. 

Sinclair and his mother both strongly feel that Tina Dominguez, Whitney Block, Dr. Sharon Chinthrajah, Dr. Nadeau and the rest of the clinical team at the Center have been with him through all of his climbs. The clinical team carefully discussed dosing before each of his trips. For the climb to Aconcagua, they waited until he passed his food challenge of 4,000 mg of peanut protein (about 16 peanuts) and his daily maintenance dose was lowered from 4,000 mg to 300 mg to clear him to scale Aconcagua. Just a few weeks after he was given the go-ahead, in December 2016, Sinclair climbed Aconcagua. By climbing the direct route, a technologically difficult climb, on the Polish glacier, he set a world record by being the youngest person to do so. Despite enduring winds up to 75 miles per hour and subzero temperatures Sinclair took his daily dose of peanuts throughout the entire trip.

Sinclair’s mom is very proud of his achievement. She emphasizes that without the team at the Center, there is no way he could have attempted the climb. “They were instrumental in his success. They were very supportive and we are very thankful to everyone at the Center who helped him achieve his goal.” Sinclair has now set his sights higher towards Gasherbaum III, the 13th highest mountain in the world. By living his life to the fullest, he is an inspiration to all those living with food allergies. We wish him success on his next climb!

Interview by Vanitha Sampath

Vanitha Sampath received her PhD in Nutrition from the University of California at Davis. At the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research, as a medical writer and content manager, she enjoys being in the midst of groundbreaking research in asthma and allergy and is committed to communicating the scientific advances of the Center and spreading awareness of its mission and vision. 

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