AS bizarre as it may sound, being close to a Snickers bar, M&Ms, peanuts or even cookies could kill teenager Sophie Laird.
That’s because Sophie, 18, has a severe nut allergy which means even airborne particles can bring on anaphylactic shock causing life-threatening breathing problems.
Sophie carries two adrenalin pens to inject herself in case of an attack, but if they fail to work hospital treatment is the only option.
Normally Sophie, a performing arts student at West Cheshire College in Ellesmere Port, is within minutes of an A&E department so she felt particularly vulnerable during a recent flight to Florida on a holiday bought as an 18th birthday present.
She hoped the cabin crew would, as during past experiences, make an announcement requesting fellow passengers to refrain from eating nuts.
“I went and sat in my seat and this man, he must have been a manager on the flight, came over and said ‘Are you the one with the nut allergy?’ and that’s when he said ‘It’s against our policy to make such an announcement’.
“I asked if I would be able to announce it. He said ‘You can but it won’t guarantee people won’t pull out a bag if nuts even though you have asked’.”
By this time Sophie, who was accompanied by boyfriend Richard, was panicking and getting upset. Asked if she was safe to fly, Sophie responded: “Not really if there are nuts in the atmosphere because I could die in the air.”
Sophie made a desperate call to her mum Tracy to seek advice, and was put on the phone to the airline who asked questions about her condition. Finally, she was moved into the empty business class section and had no sooner fastened her seat belt when the jet took off.
Fortunately the flight was uneventful – apart from a nearby passenger taking a Snickers bar out of his pocket – and Sophie, who has sisters Sian, Chelsea and Chloe, immediately phoned her frantic mum on landing safely.
Despite the trauma, Sophie ‘loved’ the holiday although she was unable to swim with dolphins as she had hoped because she is also allergic to the dolphins’ food of fish, so she contented herself with stroking them on the nose, rather than take the risk.
Flying home on Valentine’s Day, her boyfriend won a romantic singing competition by serenading Sophie in front of all the other passengers in the departure lounge, enabling them to be upgraded to the more spacious business class again – but the last three hours of the flight proved horrendous when the cabin crew gave out free almond cookies.
“I said ‘Is there any way you could not hand them out?’ But they said ‘Sorry we can’t do that’. It’s not as if people would have been out of pocket, because they weren’t buying them. So I sat there with a blanket over my face.”
Sophie’s condition was discovered at the age of three when she started turning blue in reaction to eating bread dipped in pilchard juice. Tests revealed she was also allergic to nuts, which meant dad Hamish, a plumber with Chester & District Housing Trust, could no longer enjoy his favourite evening snack.
Sophie, who must also avoid eggs, cherries and apples, believes her condition has forced her to grow up faster than the average teenager.
“I think it’s done me good. I look at life and think how lucky I am to be here. In other parts of the world there are children dying of AIDs. I’ve decided to live life to the full. You have got to take risks in life.”
As if to prove the point, Sophie has been selected to dance at a festival in Germany, which means another flight and more anxiety. “That’s been a major thing, but I’m definitely going to go,” says the plucky young woman.