local couple, Dale and Julie Burgardtpresented a $5 million gift to establish a new Food Allergy Center at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine—the first and only academic health center focused on food allergy in the Pacific Northwest.
Their charitable gift will support the center’s start-up costs, including a new chair, improved clinical services, and new research and clinical trials. The center is located within the OHSU Allergy and Immunology Clinic led by Shyam Joshi, MDD., assistant professor of medicine and chair of the division of allergy and immunology at the OHSU School of Medicine. It is expected to open in 2023.
“It will be a game changer, not just for our region, but for the country,” Joshi said.
Currently, the nearest regional center for food allergy research to patients is in the Bay Area, leaving patients in five states with only one choice, hundreds or thousands of miles away. By establishing the Burghardt Food Allergy Center in Portland, OHSU will be able to serve patients throughout Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.
The Burghardts’ inspiration for the center came from their family’s personal experience, with both Julie and their now 5-year-old grandson, Harrison, dealing with food allergies.
Their grandson developed terrifying symptoms when he was just an infant: Between five and seven months, he had three severe allergic reactions to food. Dale and Julie Burgardt remember the stress of being on the phone with their daughter as Harrison, only a few months old, was taken to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s in an ambulance.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES), a severe condition that affects young children and occurs two to four hours after eating.
“It was a relief just knowing what was wrong so we could do something about it,” said Del Burghart.
“Now he can even manage it himself,” Julie Burghart said. “He knows what he can and cannot eat.
“And sometimes, if he doesn’t like something, he’ll say, ‘I’m allergic,'” she laughs.
Unlike known food allergens such as nuts, Joshi said FPIES can occur after a child eats foods common to children, such as oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, bananas or green beans. Most children eventually grow out of the condition, but, like other food allergies, diagnosing and managing FPIES can be both tragic and harrowing for families, the Burghardt family has learned.
“Our first impulse was to help avoid other families from going through the stress and anxiety our family went through before discovering that Harrison had fetal alcohol syndrome,” said Del Burghart. “We reached out to OHSU because of its great reputation, the fact that it is the largest teaching hospital in the state, and because we felt we had the potential to achieve the greatest results by working with OHSU through outreach, education, research, and treatment of food allergy. We were so excited when OHSU quickly shared its vision for the Allergy Center. food, which will have a much broader impact than we have ever imagined.”
With Burghardt’s generous gift, the Food Allergy Center aims to:
- Providing enhanced patient care for both children and adults with food allergies.
- Educate patients in the community as well as clinicians who are not specialists in identifying, diagnosing and treating food allergies.
- Expanding research into the growing prevalence of food allergies and better ways to treat them, including severe allergies such as FPIES.
“It’s exciting to meet donors who have a keen interest in food allergies,” Joshi said. “Burghardts’ gift will accelerate our ability to expand our research footprint, and increase access to treatment here in our own backyard.”