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Feb/Mar 2011 Issue
Food Allergy Musician
Kyle Dine inspires kids to reach their dreams
Photo courtesy of Kyle Dine
Kyle Dine is “just fine living without,” exemplifying the lyrics he sings to crowds of young fans. The 27-year-old Canadian musician follows a whirlwind schedule, writing his own songs, performing concerts, and appearing at fairs and school assemblies across North America. He also runs web business Allergy Translation, works with nonprofit Anaphylaxis Canada to support food-allergic teens and undertakes special projects for the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and other organizations.
“Kyle is clearly showing by example that anyone can have a full and active life while living with food allergies,” says Michele Cassalia, development coordinator for Kids With Food Allergies (KFA), which showcased Dine’s talent during its annual Family Fun Expo and Dance-a-Thon in Philadelphia and Houston.
Dine’s unique blend of entertainment and education stems from his personal experience of living with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish and mustard.
“This is a fun entertainer who relays a serious message while making it less fearful for children,” says Beatrice Povolo, director of marketing and communications at Anaphylaxis Canada.
Julia Bradsher, CEO of FAAN, can attest to Dine’s popularity. She’s witnessed the audience reaction at several of his performances.
“His star power among kids with food allergies is really cool. He’s like a rock star. The kids just go wild for him,” she says.
Dine’s latest album, Food Allergies Rock!, was released in fall 2010. Like his earlier release, You Must Be Nuts, toe-tapping tunes and catchy lyrics empower food-allergic children and their families, letting kids know they can achieve their dreams. Living Without recently caught up with Dine to ask him about his allergies and his music.
Living Without When did you become aware that you had allergies?
Dine I was first diagnosed with food allergies at age 3. I also had severe asthma and constant eczema. My asthma was a big challenge growing up. I’ve been hospitalized because of it on numerous occasions, including last year. My parents recounted to me what my first reaction was like and it seemed pretty severe. Apparently I was fed a milkshake that had egg as one of the ingredients in the ice cream. After that, my parents had me tested and found that I had allergies to more than just eggs.
My initial diagnosis was allergies to milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, tree nuts and penicillin. I grew out of the milk allergy early on and gained my allergy to mustard and shellfish as a young adult.
Have you outgrown any others?
My latest round of testing was a bit of a roller coaster—a few false negatives before I got the truth firsthand during an oral challenge. I try not to get my hopes up too much when getting tested. At this point in my life, I’m okay with my allergies and don’t put much stake into losing them any time soon.
How did your family feel upon your diagnosis?
My parents have told me that they were devastated when they left the allergist’s office. They felt quite overwhelmed as they realized there was so much to learn. They joined an allergy association and ordered “Stop! Please Don’t Feed Me” buttons for me to wear whenever I left the house. My pediatrician taught my mother how to administer adrenaline by letting her inject a saline solution into his arm! There were no auto-injectors back then, just kits with a manual syringe with adrenaline.
How did your parents help you deal with your allergies?
They kept me safe while maintaining a balance of letting me know how serious allergies can be without creating any anxiety in me. There were no other kids with allergies around me growing up, so standing out was the hardest part to deal with. However, my parents did an amazing job of making me feel special—and cool. I have a photo of when I was 11, wearing my neon fanny pack and a MedicAlert bracelet. I was also wearing sport team sweatpants and a hip baseball cap and I have a look on my face as if I thought I was the coolest kid in the world! That picture reminds me how much my parents tried to make me fit in, despite the non-negotiable auto-injector and bracelet.
Have you ever been rushed to the hospital because of a reaction?
One reaction that I refer to as “the biggie” sent me to the hospital on Christmas Day when I was 21. I experienced some pretty scary symptoms and was not in a position to use my own EpiPen. My mother took control of the situation and gave me epinephrine and almost immediately, the symptoms started to subdue. This was followed by the ambulance sirens, the rush to the emergency room and, unfortunately, another round of symptoms known as a biphasic reaction. The whole experience was a wake-up call. For days after the reaction, I laid low and spent a lot of time by myself. I was in disbelief that it happened, that the symptoms were so severe and that I was really close to not making it. I can pinpoint that week as a major turning point in my life.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Dine
In what way?
It was the first time that taking risks with my allergies caught up to me in a significant way. I was a typical teenager who lived a little on the cavalier side and didn’t take my allergies as seriously as I should have. The reaction really scared me and made me realize that I needed to change to avoid an experience like that again. I started paying attention to every single precautionary label, asked thoroughly about ingredients in restaurants and began speaking up more at social functions, caring less and less about how I appeared to others. Ultimately, for a guy that age, my pendulum of worries swung from my social needs to my safety needs.
You started playing guitar at age 10. Did music help you deal with your allergies?
Playing music has always had a key role in my life and influenced who I am and, obviously, what I do. I was a really creative type growing up and music gave me an outlet to express myself. Music and songwriting influenced my confidence, which ultimately helped me deal with my allergies. Fast forward to now and music is still what makes me happy and I’m driven to do it for a living.
When your first CD was released in 2007, you became a pioneer of sorts—the world's first and only allergy musician. What made you decide to jump into writing music and performing?
It wasn’t a jump, it was more a leap of faith! I knew there was nothing like it available and I knew there was value in it, but I really had no clue of where it could go. I tested the waters, performing songs for a few support groups. When I saw the kids jumping around to the music, actually feeling proud that they have food allergies, I was hooked.
Have you noticed more awareness about food allergies as you’ve been touring?
Yes. It is truly night and day compared to when I was a kid. Within the last few years, I’ve seen countless groups pop up, as well as new products and services—all trying to help the families who are dealing with this condition. The food-allergic community has become more mobilized for the cause and it’s reflected in society’s overall increased awareness.
Food-allergic kids have fallen in love with the superhero Epi-Man, who starred in your first album, You Must Be Nuts. Who was your superhero as a kid?
I never idolized any superheroes but I loved a few unique characters, such as the Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice. I’ve always admired real people who make a difference and make the world a better place.
How does Food Allergies Rock! differ from You Must Be Nuts?
You Must Be Nuts was written before I was connected with the allergy community. Many of the songs and messages are based on my own experiences. Since then, I’ve met thousands of families affected by anaphylaxis. The songwriting behind Food Allergies Rock! was heavily researched and gives positive messaging around issues that parents have highlighted for me, like the song, “Never Keep a Reaction a Secret.”
What’s the main message you want kids to take away from Food Allergies Rock!?
The title says it. It’s the theme of the album and every song links back to that sentiment. There are so many bright sides to living with allergies and I’ve really tried to emphasize this throughout. Once kids feel that it’s okay to have food allergies, that it’s not something to be embarrassed about, then it’s much easier for them to advocate for themselves and stay safe.
What We Hear on the Street
Canadian musician Kyle Dine uses his experience with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish and mustard to educate, entertain and inspire food-allergic children. Here are snippets about Dine, heard during Living Without’s interviews with various representatives of the food-allergic community.
"Kyle’s been able to take something that can be a lifelong challenge and turn it into something positive.”
Julia Bradsher, CEO
Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)
"The kids absolutely love Kyle. He’s fun and silly and the kids sing and dance right along with him. He makes the kids feel important and that they’re not alone. They think it’s really neat to hear a super-cool guy sing about food allergies."
Michele Cassalia, Development Coordinator
Kids With Food Allergies (KFA)
"Kids feel like he's really listened and what's out there is based on their conversations and their involvement. He's got a great rapport with them."
Beatrice Povolo, Director of Marketing and Communications
"Nearly 12 million people, or 1 in every 25, suffer from a food-related allergy. In my region, that translates to 1 student in every classroom. Kyle was truly the key to the success of our broadcast [a videoconference for thousands of students in Texas]. He was amazing. His sense of humor and musical talent allowed him to convey a very serious message in a manner that was entertaining and non-threatening to the students who were participating."
Diane Edgar, Educational Specialist and VC4U Programming Manager
Region 4 Education Service Center, Texas