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Family is everything to Dale and Julie Burghardt. So, when their grandson, Harrison, suffered a severe allergic reaction to eating oatmeal at 5 months of age, the experience was traumatic for the entire family.

The Burghardts, who hail from Molalla, Oregon, now reside in Las Vegas while spending their summers being close to their grandkids in Lake Oswego. They recalled the stress of being on the phone with their daughter back home in Oregon as Harrison was rushed to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

“We were 1,000 miles away as our daughter, Kelsey, was driving our grandson to the emergency room, talking her through it and keeping her safe,” said Dale Burghardt. “It’s a feeling of helplessness and a lot of stress.”

Over the next two months — marked by two more terrifying episodes, trips to the emergency room and a food trial plan developed by an OHSU dietician — their pediatrician was able to diagnose baby Harrison with food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES).

“Our number one motivation was to help spare other families from going through the stress and anxiety our family went through.”

Dale Burghardt

Unlike more commonly known peanut, tree nut or seed allergies, FPIES can occur with foods much more common for babies, such as oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, bananas or green beans. Most children eventually grow out of this condition. But in the meantime — as the Burghardt family learned — the process of diagnosing FPIES and managing symptoms such as severe vomiting and diarrhea can be dramatic and traumatizing for families.

“It was such a relief just knowing what was wrong so Kelsey and her husband, Zach, could develop a roadmap of how to deal with it,” Dale Burghardt said.

The Burghardt family’s very personal experience with such a severe, hard-to-diagnose food allergy inspired their interest in helping other families like theirs. After exploring options with the OHSU Foundation, the couple made a $5 million philanthropic commitment to establish the Burghardt Food Allergy Center in the OHSU School of Medicine. As a result, Oregon’s only academic health and research institution will become the home of the Pacific Northwest’s first and only comprehensive food allergy-focused center for research, patient care, community outreach and provider education.

Their generous gift will support startup costs for the center, including establishing a new endowed chair for an exceptional faculty member specializing in food allergies, enhanced clinical services, new research projects and clinical trials. The center will be located within the current OHSU Allergy and Immunology Clinic led by Shyam Joshi, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine and head of allergy and clinical immunology at OHSU. It is expected to open in 2023.

“It’s going to be game-changing, not only in our region, but for the country,” Joshi said.

The center’s Portland location will enable OHSU to serve patients across Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. According to Joshi, the Burghardt’s gift will also advance OHSU’s efforts to attract top talent, deepen its research into the prevalence of food allergies, advance the search for improved treatments and educate providers so they can diagnose and treat food allergies more quickly and effectively.

“Our number one motivation was to help spare other families from going through the stress and anxiety our family went through before finding out Harrison had FPIES,” Dale Burghardt said. “We reached out to OHSU because of its great reputation, the fact that it’s the largest teaching hospital in the state and because we felt we had the potential to achieve the greatest results working with OHSU. We were extremely happy when OHSU quickly shared their vision for a food allergy center, which will have a much broader impact than we had ever envisioned.”

Today, Harrison is a healthy 5-year-old who recently started kindergarten in fall of 2022.

“He handles not being able to eat some foods that other kids are eating really well,” Julie Burghardt said. “He just says, ‘I’m allergic,’ and moves on.”

Reflecting on the impact the center will have on other families and their health care providers navigating food allergies, Dale Burghardt said, “We felt we were in the right place at the right time to make the center happen. We were fortunate to be successful in our business, and now it’s our time to give back.”

Read more about the center on OHSU News.

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