Imagine being a child and never eating birthday cake at a friend’s party because it might contain trace amounts of peanuts or tree nuts, or being a teenager who can’t go to a coffee shop because of the milk in the air. Imagine needing to read every single food label before eating snacks —because your life depends on it. For children and teens with food allergies, these scenarios are all too real. Pediatric food allergies are extremely common — their prevalence has nearly tripled in the last 20 years. Food allergies can cause severe reactions and can have an enormous impact on the daily life of a child — and the child’s family.
Julie and Neil Reinhard experienced the fear caused by a life-threatening food allergy reaction when their son, Seth, had an allergic reaction to peanut butter two days after his first birthday. After going to an emergency department, the Reinhards saw Robert Wood, director of the Eudowood Division of Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
“We didn’t know anything about food allergy then, and wanted the top expert in the field to care for Seth and help us navigate this new territory,” Julie Reinhard says. “We soon found Dr. Wood and felt relieved as he demystified food allergies and explained how to best manage them on a day-to-day basis. Equally important was Dr. Wood’s genuine concern, patience and care.”
Reinhard adds, “That was just the beginning. Year in and year out, Dr. Wood has been there for us, sharing the key information and facts we needed to keep our son safe and healthy.”
For more than 20 years, Wood has been at the forefront of research and treatment regarding pediatric food allergies. Therapies for food allergy have traditionally revolved around avoiding the allergen and ensuring that medication is available in case of accidental exposure, but Wood and his team have been leading investigations for years on approaches to not only treat the symptoms but also to reduce the risks. Currently, Wood oversees more than 20 studies at Johns Hopkins, with 200 to 300 total patient participants — many studies supported by philanthropy.
Inspired by the compassionate care Seth received from Wood, the Reinhards — along with Neil’s mother, Myra, and father, Eli — supported Wood’s work with the lead gift to establish an endowed professorship for him
in 2007. The professorship supports the Eudowood Division in perpetuity, providing integral funds to help reach the goal of arming children and parents with the ability to best manage childhood allergies, and to find comfort and confidence — through all phases of life.
Since the initial gift in 2007, dozens of patient families like the Reinhards have recognized the need for Wood’s research to continue and have made contributions to the endowment. Years in the making, the efforts of these grateful donors finally came to fruition in 2020, when the Julie and Neil Reinhard Professorship in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology was fully established. Wood was named the inaugural recipient.
“It’s a true honor to be able to see the support that has come in thanks to the dedication of many families who are committed to the work that we’re doing,” Wood says. “Thanks to philanthropy, we have been able to really provide the world’s best care for patients with severe allergic disease, and have taken it to the next level with our research program. At this stage of my career, it’s very important to me to leave behind a legacy of trainees, and this will guarantee our work has no end in sight, even beyond when I’m no longer actively doing this.”
The endowment provides discretionary funds that will allow investigator-initiated research to continue despite potential changes to other funding sources. Endowment funds will also support training of the next generation of pediatric allergists and immunologists, ensuring that they have the resources they need to be successful.
“I’m so incredibly grateful for the combination of the brilliant mind and the tremendous compassion and empathy that Dr. Wood gave to Seth and my entire family,” Julie Reinhard says. “There’s nothing more important to us than investing in research for health care, and there’s no one working harder than Dr. Wood to improve the lives of children with food allergies. We are so grateful to all the families whose lives he’s touched immeasurably who joined us to help make this happen.”