By Astha Gupta
A mum who could be killed by a cookie has spoken out after a common but little-known ‘secret ingredient’ triggered a near-fatal allergic reaction.
Fiona Cooper Smyth went into life-threatening anaphylactic shock in September last year after accidentally eating a tiny amount of the legume lupin, commonly used in baked products, in a granola pot.
The mum-of-two, who is originally from Buckinghamshire, England, but now lives in Perth, had previously suffered two less severe reactions to the gluten-free legume but did not visit her doctor.
Now the singer, who is half of soprano duo DivaLicious who shot to fame on Australia’s Got Talent in 2012, wants to raise awareness of the little-known allergen’s potentially-disastrous side effects – and warn people to check food labels.
The 50-year-old, who emigrated to Australia aged 31, said: “Before putting any food in my mouth, I now ask what it contains.
“When I discovered my allergy I was surprised at how this nasty ingredient was creeping into many ordinary bakery products, yet no one knew how dangerous it was to someone like me who was allergic to it.
“Sadly, even shopkeepers and café-owners are clueless themselves, so I have become wary of eating anything that might not be labelled.
“The reactions I have suffered have not only scared me, but my children, for life.
“The first time it happened, I felt like I was dying – it was so uncomfortable.”
Fiona suffered her very first allergic reaction to lupin after eating a cookie shortly before she and singing partner Penny Shaw were due to make a DivaLicious appearance in June 2015.
The protein is used to make lupin flour, which is commonly found in bread, pasta, muffins, muesli and cookies, as well as many other baked goods.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to lupin include feeling like there is a hard ball in your stomach or rough sensation in your mouth, a croaky voice, swollen lips, tight throat and vomiting.
Eight months after the first incident, Fiona suffered another mild allergic reaction from a piece of vegetarian quiche she did not realise contained lupin flour.
She told husband Richard and kids Thomas, 13, and Emily, 11, and vowed to avoid the ingredient, but never saw her doctor.
In September 2017 this oversight nearly cost the 50-year-old her life after she ate a granola yoghurt berry compote from a café while cycling with Emily.
Fiona, who has sung at the Sydney Opera House, now wants the world to know about the dangers of lupin.
She said: “I started eating through the granola to get to the yoghurt and berries, but as I was half-way through, I started to get that awful rough sensation in my mouth and a ball growing in my throat and stomach.
“Emily and I sat in silence outside the café hoping I’d be soon better but sure enough within 15 minutes I was throwing up.
“It was as if my mind and body were shutting down. I couldn’t think straight. All I wanted to do was get home but the bouts of vomiting continued.
“The café owner dropped us home, where I sat on the sofa holding a bucket. I couldn’t speak and my throat was swelling up and it had affected my larynx.
“When I began coughing, the kids got into action.
“The children saved my life by calling a close friend who lived nearby, and within minutes I was rushed to hospital.
“I still kept thinking it wasn’t serious and it would subside but the retching got worse and a nasty red itchy rash started appearing all over my body.
“When nurses admitted me straightaway to the emergency, I knew I had narrowly dodged a bullet.
I shudder to think what would have happened had I not reached the hospital on time.”