How many 17-year-olds do you know who have almost died—three times? Tessa Grosso hasn’t had her life threatened while heliskiing, base jumping, or some other audacious sport; she’s just trying to eat three meals a day.
Thirty-two million Americans are living with potentially life-threatening food allergies, says FoodAllergy.org. Every three minutes a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room.
Wheat disguised as rice noodles nearly killed Tessa. Bringing her back to consciousness required not one but two EpiPens, adrenaline-loaded syringes, along with steroids and an array of drugs. Tessa was so severely allergic to milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, shellfish, and assorted other foods that as a toddler she went into anaphylactic shock when milk spilled on her skin, her first nearly fatal reaction.
In 2012, Tessa was the first patient to be successfully treated for multiple allergens simultaneously with oral immunotherapy (OIT) in a groundbreaking clinical trial at Stanford University.
By courageously choosing to participate, Tessa knew exposure could lead to throat swelling, losing consciousness, paralysis, and other frightening responses. “In order to desensitize my food allergies, I was told I would have to actually eat the foods that had been poison to me since birth,” she says. “It took a lot of convincing, and ultimately what pushed me over the edge was the possibility of helping others.”
Her success, along with so many others, has helped show the world how life-altering these treatments can be. “The clinical trial not only allowed me to eat freely the foods I once feared, but it also catalyzed a series of treatments and new information about the disease,” she shares. “The improvement in our quality of life has been incredible.”
Far from a victim, Tessa is an advocate and educator. “I’m working to tackle lack of awareness of and accessibility to food-allergy treatment options,” she says. “Solutions exist and I have testified at the FDA to influence the approval of the first-ever peanut allergy drug. Additionally, I have helped my mom found Latitude Food Allergy Care, a specialized clinic focusing solely on food allergy.”
Representing thousands of patients who have found OIT life-changing, Tessa told the FDA panel: “Saving my life, giving me a new life—every child deserves this. Therapy that provides freedom, safety, and the ability to live without the fear of food is a choice that should be available and accessible for every single family.”
For Tessa’s family, including her two sisters Reese and Alyssa Grosso, fear and anxiety are a constant. Says Reese, “Tessa is my sister and I love her. Seeing her suffer and have such serious allergic reactions to foods I eat worry-free is devastating to Alyssa, me, the whole family.” Adds Alyssa, “She’s right. Tessa’s struggle and her power are ours as well. We are fully active in the mental health clubs at school and Safespace… trying to be open and honest and supportive of others struggling with their mental health because of these life-threatening allergies.”
One thing is for certain: with the support of her family, Tessa will continue to be a game changer and fight the good fight.