LAYTON — It's a year of first for the Horn family.
"Most parents take pictures of their kids' first steps and here we are; we're taking pictures of their first Hostess cookie, their first birthday cake," said Michelle Horn, a mother of three of lives in Layton.
Two of her children, Emma and Ethan, have severe food allergies.
"Usually it would start with hives and then they would start vomiting, and then they would have problems breathing," she said.
But Dr. Douglas Jones of Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma & Immunology said he has about a 95 percent success rate treating kids through exposure. They begin with a consultation, making sure the child is truly allergic, and it's not something else causing the problem. They also confirm it's a food they treat.
"They've lived this life of isolation," Jones said. "They're almost desperate. They're looking for something to give them some freedom. Some hope."
They do it in the clinic with emergency care on stand-by. They are helping kids like Cassie Smith, age 11, who moved to Utah from Phoenix just for treatment.
"At school I would have to sit alone at a lonely, nut-free table," Cassie said.
Her mom, Tara Smith, added, "She segregated herself from the rest of the class. She moved her desk to the wall."
Eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children, according to University Healthcare. Nearly 5 percent of kids under the age of 5 have food allergies. And it doesn't take much: 1/44,000 of a peanut can cause a severe reaction in a highly allergic child.
The kids at the clinic start with a microscopic amount of peanut flour mixed with Kool-Aid. Then, they work up to a capsule full of peanut flour, until they can tolerate the actual nut.
"They're subthreshold to where they would react," Jones said. "We start with microscopic doses. We're just able to gradually build their tolerance and increase their immunity."
For parents, it can be daunting at first.
"Here we are asking him to eat the very thing we've been keeping from him his whole life," Michelle said. "It was very scary."
It's not a cure. The patients have to continue exposure, a handful of nuts at breakfast, for example, for the rest of their lives, as directed by the doctor. But they're able to enjoy food that once were poison.
"We were allergic to peanuts; we did that already," said Kylee Keisel, age 11. "Now we're allergic to tree nuts, which we're doing right now."
Brigham Loveland can now go to Scout camp. "I went on a week-long this past summer for the first time and that was really awesome," said Loveland, who is 13. "I've been able to stay with my friends."
Cassie will some be able to do this: "Go to the Sweet Tooth Fairy and get one of those giant cupcakes," she said.
Emma and Ethan have some new favorites. "Pretzels and cookies," Emma said. Ethan added with a smile, "Reese's Peanut Butter Cups."
They now live a life without limits. "Awesome," Ethan said. "It's the best life I could ever have."
Their mother grew teary. "It's happy, it's happy: to hear him say his life is amazing now," Michelle said.