PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Helpless. That’s how Dale and Julie Burghardt said they felt when their daughter called to tell them their 5-month-old grandson was vomiting uncontrollably and being rushed to the emergency room.
Their grandson, Harrison, was lethargic and had a low body temperature and his parents had absolutely no idea what was happening.
Harrison experienced episodes like this twice more before he was 7 months old and before his pediatrician diagnosed him with FPIES — food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome. It’s a rare food allergy that affects children.
After watching their grandson navigate his food allergies for the last four years, the Burghardts knew they wanted to do something to help expand food allergy research and to care for more children like their grandson.
On Thursday, they announced they’re donating $5 million to start the Burghardt Food Allergy Center at Oregon Health & Science University.
“We’re very fortunate that we were able to do this and hope that it really helps some families and parents find a solution or a path to a solution,” Julie Burghardt said.
The Burghardts approached the OHSU Foundation in early September 2021, and by that fall, the hospital was already putting plans in motion.
Dr. Shyam Joshi, section chief of allergy immunology at OHSU, was asked to help develop the food allergy center. His job is to coordinate hiring faculty and to develop the clinic.
The food allergy center is not only a first for OHSU, but a first for the Northwest. Currently, the closest food allergy centers are located near San Francisco. Joshi said this center will have an immense impact on the entire Pacific Northwest.
“A food allergy center would really concentrate and provide additional resources for our patients. So, we can provide better education, we can provide better resources for them, both here at OHSU but also in their communities and elsewhere in Oregon,” he said.
The food allergy center has three main goals: first, to provide excellent patient care; second, to conduct cutting-edge research in diagnosing and treating food allergies; and third, to educate patients and providers in the community.
That includes educating more providers and pediatricians on FPIES. Joshi said the condition is so rare and such a new discovery, that there are a lot of doctors and care providers who don’t know what it is.
Joshi said FPIES is something that needs to be taken seriously and can have lasting effects on children, if not diagnosed and treated.
“These kids are vomiting over and over again to the point that they’re extremely dehydrated,” Joshi explained. “If we’re able to address it and diagnose it quicker, then that’s game-changing for the families.”
Children typically outgrow FPIES by the time they’re 10 years old — but still, if the food allergens aren’t discovered and avoided, it can impact a child’s growth and development.
He said the center also hopes to explore why there’s been an overall general increase in food allergies over the past couple of decades. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to food allergies, and Joshi said the only way to discover answers, treatments and types of medication is through research.
This isn’t the first time the Burghardts have made a philanthropic donation in Oregon. The couple both graduated from Molalla High School and in 2018, they made a donation to support career and technical education at the school. They’ve also donated to Chemeketa Community College.
While they spend most of the year at their home in Las Vegas, the couple always returns to the Portland area every summer and for holidays. The community and the area surrounding it mean a lot to them. They said it brings them joy to contribute something that will have such an impact.
“We go by the old philosophy that you make a living by what you earn, but we feel like you make a life by what you give. And so, this is our give-back stage,” Dale Burghardt said.
Harrison, the Burghardts’ grandson, hasn’t had an FPIES episode in nine months. His grandparents hope he’s reaching the age where he’ll soon grow out of it, only time will tell.
“We’re hoping that we can keep other families from dealing with that in the future, with the research that OHSU will be doing,” Dale Burghardt said.
OHSU said the food allergy center will be established in a building that already exists on campus. It will have specific equipment and rooms that will be more conducive to children coming in for food allergy testing.
Dr. Joshi expects it will be running by early 2023.