Peter Moore woke up in the middle of the night with his throat so tight he struggled to breathe, his torso covered with huge red welts, and no idea why. Earlier that evening in June 2001, Moore — then a 25-year-old teacher living in a coastal suburb of Sydney, Australia — had eaten pork spare ribs at a neighbour’s house, then gone to bed content and in perfect health. Until he woke in a panic.
Moore’s partner, Christine, immediately called an ambulance. She and the neighbour bundled him into a boat and ferried him across the short stretch of coastal waters to Church Point, where an ambulance could pick him up.
As they waited, seated on a sandstone wall under a street light, Moore remembers watching tiny black ants run back and forth on the ground in front of his feet. “There are certain moments in your life which are super vivid, and that one of the street lights, the ants, the sound of the ambulance, it doesn’t dissipate,” he says.
The medical team at the hospital where Moore was taken were puzzled. They treated him with adrenaline, antihistamine and steroids, and he recovered. A couple of months later, it happened again, this time after a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. And again in November that year, after eating beef nachos. Each time, he was hospitalized. Each time, no one was sure what it was he was reacting to.
The allergist he saw after his third episode suggested it might be some kind of additive in the meat, so he started avoiding meat altogether. Then, around six years later, he discovered that a neighbour had experienced similar reactions after eating meat. The chance conversation led him to allergist and clinical immunologist Sheryl van Nunen at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.
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