The Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award is a Food Allergy Canada sponsored award, made possible through an educational grant from TD Securities. Two individuals in post-secondary school who have contributed significantly to the Canadian food allergy community are selected for a $1,000 award.
This year, our winners are Christophe Bettez-Théroux and Lisa Hung. We commend them for advancing food allergy research and their passion around sharing their experiences with others.
Meet Lisa Hung
Toronto-born Lisa is a 23-year-old podcast enthusiast and science fiction lover. She was diagnosed with allergies to dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts at the age of 6 months after she experienced an allergic reaction to rice cereal with whey protein.
It became clear to Lisa’s parents that food allergies must somehow run in the family, given Lisa’s older sister also has allergies to peanut and tree nuts. Lisa described the challenges her family faced: “My parents are both immigrants and struggled to navigate this predominantly English-speaking country in our earlier years.” She notes how difficult it was to understand food labels and find substitute ingredients, as well as finding safe places to eat.
Lisa explains proudly how her mother volunteered for all school trips, donated allergy-informative books to the classrooms, and has been deeply involved in the food allergy community. “My mother is my greatest inspiration. She attended countless seminars for parents with food allergic children and has always worked so hard to keep my sister and I safe.” Fuelled by her mother’s passion, Lisa pursued studies in Immunology Specialist program at the University of Toronto, where she graduated in 2016 with distinction.
Lisa is currently enrolled in a PhD program in Immunology, at The Hospital for Sick Children, Peter Giligan Centre for Research and Learning where, under the supervision of Dr. Thomas Eiwegger, she is focusing on food allergy research. Dr. Eiwegger is an allergist at the University of Toronto.
Lisa explains that her long-term goals are to stay in food allergy research, and to work on developing treatment options for those affected (including herself!). She hopes that her current project, which involves the development of an intestinal tissue-based food allergy model, will hopefully get her closer to that goal. “As we develop this model it may potentially be used to test experimental treatments prior to human clinical trials,” she explains. Lisa plans to share research findings with high school students and the academic community through conference presentations on a global-scale. “As a food allergy researcher living with food allergies, I have a unique perspective that allows me to explain my project in a way that captures both the scientist and the person living with an allergy.”
Lisa is the current co-president of the Immunology Graduate Students’ Association (IGSA), a writer, designer, and editor for IMMpress Magazine, the magazine for the University of Toronto Department of Immunology, and is a member of AllerGen, a research network uniting Canadian experts in allergic diseases and asthma. She also volunteers with Food Allergy Canada, serving as a member of our Youth Advisory Panel, helps children through our Allergy Pals program, and contributes to AllergyBites, a community blog. She also intends to start a fundraiser for food allergy research.
Passionate about giving back, Lisa will continue her volunteer work while pursuing her studies: “As someone who has lived with allergies for 23 years, I want to be able to reassure parents and children alike that allergies will not hold you back from achieving your goals.”
Meet Christophe Bettez-Théroux
Christophe is a 20-year-old from Quebec. He explains that rather than being known as the “allergy kid” growing up, he is best known for his love of literature and theatre. In pursuit of this love, he is currently in the second year of a baccalaureate degree in Literature at Laval University.
Christophe was diagnosed with over 30 food allergies when he was only a few months old. As time passed, he outgrew most of his allergies, but 11 remain: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, sesame seeds, mustard, fish, shellfish, pineapple, honey melon, and poultry. When he was young, Christophe’s parents channelled their difficulties in re-building their dietary plan into something positive by involving themselves in the Quebec food allergy community and publishing a bestselling book in 2002 entitled, “Déjouer les Allergies Alimentaires” (Outsmarting Food Allergies). Like Lisa, Christophe encouraged by his mother to become more involved: “I’ve been inspired by her example and, from a young age, started contributing to the Déjouer les allergies website. As I grew older, I became more and more conscious that I could be a role model for children with food allergies.” In helping educate others, he wants to help them gain confidence in their future by instilling his belief that “allergies impact your life but do not define it.”
His initial involvement with the Déjouer les allergies website consisted of writing educational articles for the food allergy community. Some of these topics included, “managing the initial fear of an auto-injector, intimidation of food allergies, how an oral challenge test works, and the story of my primary school, which distinguished itself for its exemplary management of food allergies.” From there, Christophe became more involved by participating in events like the Bram Rose Congress (for allergists and immunologists), attending numerous conferences hosted by Déjouer les allergies, and attending the Salon des Allergies hosted by Allergies Québec where he managed a booth and presented as a panelist. He has also co-hosted a fundraising event for the Oral Immunotherapy Clinic (the first of its kind in Canada at the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine (CHU Ste-Justine) where he has been a part of its Patient Consultative Committee.
In addition to these commitments, Christophe has managed to co-write his first book, “Lunchs Réinventés” (Reinvented Lunches) with his mother Marie-Josée Bettez, an achievement of which he is most proud. The book, published in March 2017, has already sold over 2,000 copies and is a finalist in its category for the 2018 Taste Canada awards! Christophe explains that “this book is a reference for everything concerning food allergy management out of the comfort of home. It abounds with information about school, summer camp, travelling, restaurants, and it also contains 90 recipes and many variants, all of them adapted for the lunchbox.” Christophe describes his book as “the story and the result of everything I’ve learned, from the moment I became conscious of my food allergies up until now.”
Christophe plans to continue to work with Déjouer les allergies on future projects. He further explains his passion for food allergy awareness: “As allergies and other food restrictions become an increasing part of life (not just for us, but for everyone), it becomes more and more important to educate people and spread a positive message, and that’s my job!”
Congratulations to Lisa and Christophe for their outstanding commitment to the food allergy community. We wish you both the best of luck with your continued education!
To learn more about the Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award, visit our community awards page.