How Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis Handles His Food Allergies

Ted Leonsis, founder of the company that owns the Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics sports teams, along with Verizon Center in Washington D.C., recently spoke with NBC about his severe food allergies (http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/health/Ted-Leonsis--118334949.html ). Leonsis says that his first allergic reaction occurred when he was four years old. It was December, and he and his mother were at a department store that was roasting chestnuts. After walking through the steam, he experienced an anaphylactic reaction, and was rushed to the hospital.

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), Leonsis is one of an estimated 1.8 million Americans who are allergic to nuts. Allergic reactions are among the leading cause of death for those afflicted by food allergies.

How does Ted Leonsis deal with his life-threatening food allergies? "I’m prepared to take control of my own health," he says, by carrying an EpiPen everywhere he goes. In addition, Leonsis is also careful about considering possible ingredients in foods, including unexpected sources of nut products such as salad dressing, barbecue sauce, and pie crusts.

As someone who frequents restaurants, he is also aware of the dangers of cross contamination. Just two weeks ago, he had an allergic reaction after eating a dish served to his wife following a sports game. The dish contained lentils that had been processed in a facility that also handles nuts, triggering the reaction.

He's also had to deal with his allergy in a foreign country. He recently visited Paris, and before leaving, asked the stewardess to translate into French the following message: "I am deathly allergic to nuts. Please do not serve me any nuts or nut products." He then passed the note to a server at a French restaurant. The message was lost in translation, accidentally becoming "I am absolutely dying for nuts. I must have nuts." The error was discovered when the waiter brought ten plates of nuts out for Leonsis.

Although the incident may seem humorous, it also highlights the danger, for those with food allergies, of living in a world where they are constantly surrounded by allergens. As a result, those with food allergies must be vocal about their need to avoid their allergen, and be well prepared for any circumstance. "Do not be ashamed in any way that you have food allergies. It is vital to be transparent with those around you,” he explained. “Now, I communicate as much as I can, because people can die from these allergies."

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