Modern Family star Julie Bowen isn’t a doctor. She doesn’t even play one on TV. But she is—in addition to being a two-time Emmy winner for her role as Claire Dunphy—a concerned mother whose son has a life-threatening allergy. At about 18 months of age, Oliver, now 5, ended up in the emergency room, unable to breathe. Julie and husband Scott Phillips still don’t know what caused the reaction, but they do know that Oliver was experiencing anaphylactic shock—and that some fast thinking and a shot of epinephrine saved his life. Now Julie, who also has 3-year-old twins, is raising awareness through the Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis campaign. “I want people to be educated about the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis because it can kill really fast. That’s a tragedy that can be so easily avoided,” says Julie, 42. She shares how she found out about Oliver’s allergy, why she doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions and more.
Spry: How did you first discover Oliver’s allergies?
Julie: I was doing an episode of Boston Legal, and my husband called me and said, “I think something is wrong.” He said Oliver had eaten peanut butter. He’d had peanut butter before, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. Then Scott texted me a picture, and there was no doubt. He raced Oliver off to the emergency room, where he was treated with epinephrine and was immediately better.
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Spry: What’s your advice for other parents?
Julie: We were fortunate with Oliver that it was a very dramatic reaction. It wasn’t something that I could look the other way and say, “No big deal.” But sometimes the reaction to bee stings, shellfish, nuts or even Latex can be much more subtle and then get worse. At Anaphylaxis101.com, they have a lot more of the signs and symptoms. We want people to know what they are seeing and not say, “That is nothing.” It may be nothing, but let’s err on the side of caution.
Spry: What are some of the more subtle signs?
Julie: Being able to stick your tongue out and say “ah”: If you’re in the middle of an anaphylactic reaction, you can’t do that. And hives or little bumps, things you might ignore. Let’s try and connect the dots, not just blow it off as nothing.
Spry: What do you do to keep in shape?
Julie: I run and swim. I trained for a marathon and got terribly injured at 20 miles, so we might have to lower that goal a little bit to half a marathon.
Spry: In your 20s, you were diagnosed with a condition that required a pacemaker. How has that affected you?
Julie: It really hasn’t. I get the battery changed—like one of my kids’ toys—every seven years or so and that’s it. I forget I have it. It’s a fun party trick to freak out little kids, I’ll tell you that. I put their hand on it and they realize I have a box under my skin and they shriek and yell.
Spry: Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
Julie: I used to be the one who wrote everyone’s resolutions down on New Year’s Eve with my family and then pulled the list out a few months later and asked, “Who achieved what?” Somewhere along the way, I realized that this was both mean and self-sabotaging. I have since left my resolutions behind.
Get more info about the signs and symptoms of serious allergic reactions at Anaphylaxis101.com.