When I first came across Southern California Food Allergy Institute (SCFAI), I felt a mix of excitement and skepticism. It does after all make some pretty big claims: Food Freedom for children. How did I not know about SCFAI? Why didn’t my hometown allergist tell me there was another option to OIT (for which Jenna did not qualify for since her IgE levels continued to increase)? Is SoCal Food Allergy Institute actually legit or a scam?
So, back to the question, is SCFAI legit? Read below for my honest thoughts and experiences.
First of all, what does SCFAI do?
SCFAI is a food allergy treatment program that is vastly different from traditional Oral Imunno Therapy (OIT). The goal of OIT is to increase micro-doses step-by-step to achieve the ability to eat a small dose (like one peanut) to decrease the chances of anaphylaxis. SCFAI’s process is named TIP, which stands for Tolerance Induction Program. The end goal is food freedom. Yes, you read that right! At the end of the program, a child is able to eat freely, with no restrictions. There is a specific maintenance process but the child can otherwise eat the food and quantities they wish.
Dr. Randhawa is the brain behind the TIP program. According to the SCFAI’s website, Dr. R is committed to helping food-allergic kids after witnessing the horrific outcomes of accidental exposures in the ER. He has acquired a team of food allergy professionals to work at the California clinics.
Does it work?
After extensive research and conversations with current TIP patients, we enrolled my youngest daughter, Jenna in the program in October of 2021. Our first appointment was in November of 2021. During that appointment, my skepticism started to ease as I spoke with the medical team, but more importantly, with active SCFAI families in person and via socials.
Here is what I have learned:
- The program requires a TON of work from both the kiddos and more so, the parents. You may want to read that again. Each week requires sourcing, preparing, dosing, and observing. Wash, rinse, repeat. Depending on your frequency of prep, it can take hours to pre-measure and prep for the week/month to come.
- Your schedule and flexibility will be limited (somewhat). Each day during dosing, your child’s heart rate must remain at rest for at least an hour. This is a requirement to keep your child safe. Your evenings will look different while in the program.
- SCFAI is expensive and insurance coverage is minimal for out-of-towners. This is a big barrier for many families. More so now since the cost of travel has just about doubled. Insurance companies are not covering many of the costs associated with SCFAI yet. The institute continues to negotiate with the individual insurance companies but as of now, most of the costs are out of pocket. This video very candidly discusses the costs associated with the program (skip to 1:05 to hear about the costs specifically (which I really appreciate):
- There is a certain amount of blind faith in the program. This does not sit well with many parents that attempt to understand every aspect. For me, I realized I needed to trust the professionals and the success rates rather than knowing the exact science. In my opinion, I think there is also a certain amount of confidentiality for safety purposes. Giving the specifics out to the public and other health care professionals can lead to botched attempts that could lead to a hurt child. Also, keep in mind…SCFAI is a business and needs to maintain a steady income to support the staff. Copy-cats would not be beneficial.
- SCFAI is a growing medical facility and has administrative growing pains. Although my family has yet to experience any issues, many in the program have experienced delays in non-life-threatening responses. Understandably frustrating but I think back to our local Allergist’s office. Ugh. At least the staff at SCFAI is friendly and accommodating. I also can get in and reschedule at SCFAI without having to wait 3-6 months. So, take it with a grain of salt.
- Other medical issues and allergy severity will impact the length of treatment. Our youngest daughter has a GI disease and multiple food allergies so her treatment will likely result in an increased treatment time. Our oldest daughter has the same GI disease but is only allergic to one food group-tree nuts. Therefore her treatment time will be significantly shorter than her sister’s. Jenna will most likely be in active treatment for 3-4 years.
Okay, but does it actually work?
Yep. I think it does. I have talked to several parents with children in the program. Most recently, another mom from Missouri and I discussed her son’s progress. He has passed and is freely eating ALL TREE NUTS. From anaphylactic to freely eating all tree nuts. NOW, he is moving on to peanut. While at the clinic, I talked to a mom from Indiana. Her peanut-anaphylactic son was up to 40 peanuts. 40, mind-blowing. My youngest is steadily increasing on her first tree nut as well. Each week I am amazed at the progress.
That isn’t to say the path to food freedom is free of hiccups. There are setbacks, pauses, and other issues that can arise. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
In summary: In my humble opinion, the program is expensive, time-consuming, sometimes confusing, emotional, and totally worth it. I will take the hope SCFAI has given me other than the yearly, “nothing we can do” from other allergists any day. However, I would say it is not for everyone. Be sure to do your research, reach out to TIP moms, and ask your healthcare team.
Comment with any questions for a TIP mom below and I will do my best to answer.
I am not a doctor or health care professional. Always consult with your doctor with any medical questions or issues. NEVER start a food allergy treatment or trial without a medical professional. I was not paid to write this blog, it is my opinion. Visit the SCFAI website to research the program.
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