News

10.02.2019

Gift from grateful parents to bring innovative pediatric allergy research to the Miller School

Justin and Sari Kaplan never dreamed something as simple as cashew butter could pose a threat to their son James’ life — and give them a new mission of their own.

Last year, when James was just one year old, a few bites of cashew butter had a shocking effect. He immediately broke out in hives. “It was incredibly scary … terrifying,” said Sari Kaplan.

They rushed him to an urgent care center, and luckily the physicians there were able to control the reaction with an EpiPen and an antihistamine. But that was just the beginning of their journey into the world of childhood allergies.

Their pediatrician recommended that they see Gary I. Kleiner, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and surgery at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Kleiner conducted extensive allergy testing on James, and the Kaplans learned that he was dangerously allergic to tree nuts, eggs and many seeds.

In addition to providing them with the emergency treatments they needed to have on hand for James at all times, Dr. Kleiner helped the Kaplans learn how to keep him safe not only at home, but at school, at friends’ houses, on planes and more.

He also told them about pioneering research that is uncovering a new way to cure allergies and producing promising results. But because this program only exists at Stanford University, it’s not accessible to East Coast families.

All that is about to change thanks to a generous $100,000 gift the Kaplans made to bring the new pediatric allergy research to UM, in gratitude for the outstanding care and support they received from Dr. Kleiner and his staff.

“Miami is a world-class city, so it should have a world-class allergy treatment facility,” Justin Kaplan said. “We wanted to help make that happen.”

Their philanthropic support will enable Dr. Kleiner and his team to collaborate with researchers at Stanford on a groundbreaking study and clinical trials.

“The research initiative at the Miller School of Medicine will focus on multi-food desensitization, combined with a biologic therapy, which may allow children to tolerate larger amounts of foods they are allergic to,” Dr. Kleiner said.

The Kaplans are also encouraging other people to donate so the University can build a UHealth pediatric allergy center, encompassing both research and clinical treatment. As Dr. Kleiner explained, “The goal is to have a center where we can discover the root causes of food allergies, learn how to predict them through immune system markers and offer cutting-edge therapies.”

The Kaplans learned through experience that childhood food allergies can be not only life-threatening, but can also take an enormous emotional toll.

“Food-borne allergies don’t just affect the allergic child,” Justin Kaplan said. “They affect siblings, other kids at school and more.”

It is their hope that the new allergy center will bring groundbreaking treatments to thousands of families in South Florida and beyond, and help other parents keep their children safe.

“It will be wonderful to see new treatments available right here in our South Florida back yard,” Sari Kaplan said.

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