As the Chicago Wolves get ready to host Peanut Awareness Day on Oct. 27, forward Christian Hanson shares his experience as one of the more than three million Americans who suffers from a peanut allergy.
All he wanted to do was feed some ducks.
That innocuous act is how a young Christian Hanson discovered he had a severe peanut allergy.
“When I was a kid we were living up in New York and we were driving somewhere and there were some ducks by the side of the road, so we got out to feed the ducks from a bag of peanuts,” Hanson said. “We were tossing peanuts at the ducks and – this is just what I was told, I don’t remember any of it – I got back in the car and I had all the peanut debris on my hands and I was touching my face and my parents looked in the rearview mirror and they said I looked like something from The Goonies with my face all swollen up. They didn’t know what was wrong with me, so they took me to the doctor and he gave me an antihistamine and told my parents I had a nut allergy.”
Over the last 20 years, the Wolves forward has learned to manage his condition with a carefully crafted regime. But the nomadic lifestyle of the professional hockey player doesn’t always make it easy on him.
“It’s brutal. You have to be really cautious of your surroundings at all times,” he said. “One of the first things I do when I come to a (new) team is find the trainer and tell them I have a severe nut allergy and I ask if they keep EpiPens on hand because I carry them with me but I need to know the team has them too in the locker room and on the road and around the team at all times. And then you go to the team services person who books all the meals and tell them I have a nut allergy and ask them to make special note of it for when we have team meals and make sure there’s nothing with nuts. If there is anything, I ask them to let me know so I can stay away from it.”
Despite his efforts to create awareness and to be vigilant about food choices, Hanson faced his worst nightmare last season while playing for the Providence Bruins when a trainer wasn’t on high alert for cross contamination.
“Last year in Providence after our game our trainer was making postgame shakes and everyone knew I had a nut allergy. But someone who wasn’t playing in the game made a shake, a peanut butter and chocolate protein shake, and forgot to wash out the blender completely,” Hanson said. “The trainer wasn’t really paying attention and made shakes for all of us. I drank one not really thinking anything of it and a couple minutes later my stomach started feeling upset. A couple minutes later one of the guys asked me why my eyes were getting so red and I started getting really hot. I asked the trainer what was in the shake and he said just protein and Gatorade, but then he thought about it for a second and was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t wash out the blender and there was peanut butter in there from the last one.’ Even just that little amount blended up into 20 shakes and me drinking just 1/20 had an effect. That was fun. I was wearing my suit and they had to give me an EpiPen in the locker room, put me on a stretcher and wheel me out in my suit past the other team who were getting dressed after the game and I had to go to the hospital and spend the night in the hospital.”
Still, in spite of the occasional scare, Hanson has never let his allergy get him down. As kids gear up for Halloween this year, many who suffer from peanut allergies will be able to find “certified peanut-free” candy they can enjoy without fear. Hanson wasn’t so lucky growing up, but he refuses to admit he missed out.
“I didn’t know any different,” he said. “Everything they have now is great. Kids can get candy from places that are certified peanut-free and they have the bracelets and the necklaces, but I didn’t have any of that because it wasn’t around when I was a kid. I made do with what I had. I think my parents and my sisters loved it more than anything because I would go out on Halloween and come back with a huge pillowcase of candy and flip it over and they’d just go to town on everything that fell out, taking everything that had nuts in it. I think they enjoyed Halloween more than I did.
“Ultimately, this is something that I’ve just grown accustomed to because I don’t know any different. But it’s something I really have to pay attention to.”
For tickets to Peanut Awareness Night, click here.