It was a very Washington working dinner at a nice restaurant a little before Christmas for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, with some big names, including several ambassadors and CNN star anchor Wolf Blitzer.
McCaul, the seven-term congressman whose district stretches from Lake Travis to Houston’s northwestern suburbs, has raised his profile on the national and even international stage because of his chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee for the last five years.
Then dessert came around.
“I usually skip dessert,” McCaul told the American-Statesman, aware that desserts can often include peanuts, which he avoids because of his peanut allergy.
This time, he dug in.
No sooner than he took a bite, McCaul fell ill and knew he had to get to a hospital.
Blitzer sprang to action and offered to drive him to the nearest emergency room. His car was nearby, the CNN news personality told him. He rushed McCaul to George Washington University Hospital, where the congressman stayed overnight — and was appreciative that Blitzer came in to check on him the next day.
The two reconnected Tuesday night at the Washington Press Club Foundation dinner — an annual event for journalists and members of Congress — for the first time since the hospital trip, hugging and recounting the moment. McCaul was a guest of the American-Statesman.
McCaul, a fit and youthful-looking 56, recovered quickly. He told the Statesman that he has had several allergic reactions to peanuts before the December episode, describing the allergy as “my Achilles heel.”
McCaul said he was telling his story publicly for the first time because he wanted to help raise awareness of the seriousness of food allergies and the need to be tested and vigilant.
Cases of allergies to peanuts, which is a legume — the family of foods that include soybeans, pinto beans and peas — have been increasing among children and is among the most common causes of severe allergy attacks, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
Peanut allergy symptoms can be life-threatening, with even tiny amounts of peanuts causing a serious reaction. The most severe type of reaction to peanuts is anaphylaxis, which can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something a person is allergic to, according to the renowned Minnesota clinic.
A patient suffering from anaphylactic shock “must be treated immediately with epinephrine (adrenaline) to relieve symptoms that include impaired breathing, swelling in the throat, or a sudden drop in blood pressure,” according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website.
Many day care facilities and schools ban peanuts and tree nuts because of allergy concerns. Some airlines, including Fort Worth-based American Airlines, do not serve peanuts on their flights.
Nuts can be included in desserts for their taste and texture, so for those with nut allergies, experts recommend avoiding sweets altogether.