Most 5-year-olds beg their parents for a dog, but in this case, 5-year-old Charlie Kahler's mom said her son desperately needs one.
A soon-to-be kindergartner at the Sanford School in Hockessin, Charlie loves playing with friends, riding his bike, swimming and just being a kid. However, Charlie has a lot more to think about than most kids his age; he suffers from 22 different life-threatening allergies that often isolate him and mom Melanie from the rest of the world.
Kahler said fear of exposure to one of Charlie's allergens, even in microscopic amounts, keeps them from public places like restaurants, airports or grocery stores.
Various Health Issues
Kahler adopted Charlie as an infant. "He always has sort of had various health issues even as a young baby," said Kahler, whose son was hospitalized for meningitis when he was only 4-months-old.
Although looking back now, the Newark mom said she thinks Charlie's body was just trying to respond to all of allergens she unknowingly fed him.
"As a mommy, [it] kind of makes you feel guilty, but at the same time, later on, around when he was about 2, I noticed he was getting a lot of hives, a lot of sinus infections," she said.
Through the years, Charlie developed allergies to things like peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, oats, mustard, wheat, dairy, eggs, legumes, coconut, beef and chicken to name some top offenders. Exposure to those allergens can cause swelling, hives, vomiting and, in some cases, anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can set in quickly and may result in death.
Charlie was also diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), which is an allergic inflammatory condition that affects the esophagus. Kahler said if her son ingests even a trace of certain allergens, Charlie's white blood cells will attack his esophagus, causing damage.
"He is much healthier than he used to be because you've taken out all of the offending foods, but at the same time, we've realized that the peanuts, and the tree nuts and the soy are definitely his top things that can cause anaphylaxis," Kahler said.
Allergen Alert Dog
A scary moment for mom and Charlie came in January when the pair attended a birthday party. Kahler said Charlie touched a countertop that must have had some peanut or tree nut residue on it and "within about five minutes, he was blue, he wasn't breathing well, so then he had to be rushed to the hospital."
When they were at the ER, Kahler said a resident suggested the family get an allergen alert dog. Kahler had never heard of an allergen detection service dog and started researching what they are and how to get one.
"It's very similar to what the bomb-sniffing dogs, the drug-sniffing dogs do for the police officers," Kahler said. "The dog would be primarily a peanut allergy dog and so the dog could go into any place like a restaurant, a birthday party, someone's house, a store -- all these places that make us really nervous bringing him to at this point -- and the dog would alert on any residue that maybe we couldn't see."
Thing is, the specifically trained animals cost upwards of $17,000. In March, Kahler started an online personal fundraising website through gofundme.com and has raised $8,000 so far.
Thats when Anna Evans, a professional opera singer in Leipzig, Germany, stepped in.
"This is one of those things where social media makes you aware of something," said Evans, who graduated with Melanie Kahler from the Sanford School in Hockessin in 1997. Separated by an ocean, the pair didn't keep in touch outside of Facebook.
"As Facebook is nowadays, you can kind of have a picture of what's going on in people's lives," said Evans, who knew all about Charlie and his allergies, even though she had never met him. "There was just one shock after another in [Kahler's] life and I thought to myself, 'I'm going home in the summer, I'm a singer and maybe I don't have that much I can contribute personally to this donation site, but maybe I can raise awareness so that a lot of people donate to it,' and that's how I came up with the idea for the concert."
A Concert for Charlie
Evans said the concert will bring very different musicians together. She said the audience will be able to experience opera sung by professional opera singers Augustine Mercante, Ken Bryson and herself, classical chamber music by members of the Newark Symphony Orchestra, jazz from local saxophone quartet Saxology, even Trinidadian world music played by members of the University of Delaware staff, including one of the founders of Delaware Steele, Kristian Paradis.
Evans, who said Kahler's fundraising has hit a plateau, hopes the concert will give the effort a much-needed boost.
"There's an initial wave of support and then after that it's hard then to get that second wave going. And this is what we're really hoping happens with this concert," Evans said. "They just need that extra support , the wave of support from their community, that's what we're hoping to do."
The concert will be held at the performing arts center at The Independence School in Newark. Tickets are $10 at the door and Evans said all procceds will go to Kahler's crowdfunding effort on gofundme.com.
Peace of Mind
A single mom and kindergarten/first grade teacher at Avon Grove Charter School, Melanie Kahler makes a lot of Charlie's food from scratch, which is often rice-based and fruit-based. While Charlie can't have all of the same foods as his friends do, Kahler desperately wants some normalcy for her son.
"This dog would kind of let him maybe go to a restaurant without fear, go to a birthday party without fear because the dog would alert us if there was anything he was severely allergic to," Kahler said. "It would be such a peace of mind to know that I'm doing as much as I can to protect him."
Kahler knows even with the dog nothing will be 100 percent safe for Charlie, but she said having the dog will greatly increase the odds in their favor, and what mother wouldn't want that.