A Sioux Falls mother has made it her mission to increase awareness about peanut allergies. And she has a big reason behind her battle.
With her long hair and fancy boots, Brooklyn Thornton is a stylish six-year-old girl. She's also already learning how to speak Spanish.
"Gato. What does that mean? Cat," Brooklyn said.
The Sioux Falls girl has to be mature for her age.
"She can't go on sleepovers. She's never had a sleepover at anybody's house except family, so she misses out on a lot," Brooklyn's mother Sara Jerke said.
You see, Brooklyn has a life-threatening peanut allergy. Not only can she not eat food with peanut products in it, but she also can have a serious reaction just by smelling it or touching a surface that has a peanut protein on it.
"It's terrifying. All of me wanted to hold her back and not send her to school and home school her or whatever I had to do to not let her go out into the real world. But she's ready and she needs that; she needs to grow and learn and be around kids her own age," Jerke said.
To stay protected at school, Jerke packs a sack lunch for Brooklyn every day. The school, Rosa Parks Elementary, also does not serve foods that contain peanut products and parents are also told not to bring them in.
"She brings her own bottled water, so she's not drinking out of the fountain," Jerke said.
Brooklyn wears a necklace and bracelet with emergency information along with a backpack that contains life-saving medication such as EpiPens, an inhaler and Benadryl.
"At recess or gym time we have her wear some gloves, so there's no risk of cross-contamination," Jerke said.
Of course Brooklyn is not alone. More than 3 million people in the U.S. are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or both. It's also one of the most common causes of death because of food allergies.
"This peanut allergy can be life and death for a lot of kids and I just want people to know how serious it is," Jerke said.
That's why Jerke encouraged the governor to proclaim this week Peanut Allergy Awareness Week. Not only does Jerke tell others about her battle, but Brooklyn also talks about it with her friends.
"I told them that I have a peanut allergy," Brooklyn said.
"Even in her class, her friends are so good about looking out for her and really taking care of her. And I think if you really get the community involved, we can help these kids and keep them safe and help them live a somewhat normal life," Jerke said.
Jerke is also raising money to buy a peanut allergy dog for her daughter. To learn how to help out with that, visit the Brooklyn's Battle website.