A local couple, Dale and Julie Burghardt, have made a $5 million gift to establish a new Food Allergy Center in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine — the first and only food allergy-focused academic health center in the Pacific Northwest.
Their philanthropic gift will support startup costs for the center, including a new endowed chair, enhanced clinical services, new research 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 in the OHSU School of Medicine. 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.
Presently, the nearest regional food allergy research center for patients is in the Bay Area, leaving patients across five states with just one option, hundreds or thousands of miles away. With the establishment of the Burghardt Food Allergy Center in Portland, OHSU will be able to serve patients across Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.
The Burghardts’ inspiration for the center came from their family’s own personal experience, with both Julie and their now 5-year-old grandson, Harrison, managing food allergies.
Their grandson presented terrifying symptoms when he was just an infant: between five and seven months old, he had three severe allergic reactions to food. Dale and Julie Burghardt recalled the stress of being on the phone with their daughter as Harrison, just a few months old, was rushed to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in an ambulance.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES), a severe condition that typically affects young children and occurs two to four hours after eating.
“It was such a relief just knowing what was wrong so we could do something about it,” Dale Burghardt said.
“Now he can even manage it himself,” Julie Burghardt said. “He knows what he can and can’t eat.
“And sometimes, if he doesn’t like something, he’ll say, ‘I’m allergic,’” she laughs.
Unlike more commonly known food allergens like nuts, Joshi said FPIES can occur after a child eats foods common for babies, such as oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, bananas or green beans. Most children eventually grow out of the condition, but, like other food allergies, diagnosing and managing FPIES can be dramatic and traumatizing for families, as the Burghardt family learned.
“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 through outreach, education, research and treatment of food allergies. 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.”
With the Burghardts' generous gift, the food allergy center aims to:
- Provide enhanced patient care to both children and adults with food allergies.
- Educate patients in the community as well as clinicians who are not as specialized in identifying, diagnosing and treating food allergies.
- Expand research into the increased prevalence of food allergies and better ways to treat them, including severe allergies like FPIES.
“It’s so exciting to meet donors who have such a strong interest in food allergies,” Joshi said. “The Burghardts’ gift will expedite our ability to expand our research footprint, and increase treatment access right here in our own backyard.”