For Hannah Lank, living with food allergies is an important part of who she is.
"Having allergies has really presented me with a lot of great opportunities that I'm glad I have," the 16-year-old said. "It's made me who I am today."
May is Food Allergy Awareness Month in Canada, but for Lank, who was diagnosed at the age of two with life-threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, raising awareness about food allergies is something she's dedicated to doing year-round.
Since 2011, she has volunteered as a member of the youth advisory panel for Anaphylaxis Canada, a Toronto-based non-profit that uses research, education and advocacy to help people at risk for anaphylaxis.
According to Anaphylaxis Canada, approximately 2.5 million Canadians report having at least one food allergy. Peanut allergies affect about two in 100 children.
Lank participates in online meetings, writes articles for the youth advisory panel blog and helps with Anaphylaxis Canada's social-media campaigns.
When the organization held a conference in Winnipeg, Lank co-organized 10 sessions dedicated to educating teens about food allergies.
"That's really what I love -- helping teens learn about their food allergies," she said. "Education is power."
In addition to her work with Anaphylaxis Canada, Lank volunteers her time giving presentations about food allergies to young people at Kelvin High School, where she is a Grade 11 student.
The 15-minute presentations include a video she created with TV commercials and clips from relevant documentaries highlighting the severity of food allergies.
Lank also teaches students how to use an auto-injector, so if need be, they can help someone going into anaphylactic shock.
"It's something that's so easy to teach people, and it can make a world of difference," she said. "I could be saving my own life (by sharing this information), but also many other lives."
She gave presentations to more than 300 Grade 9 students last year. She said one of the highlights of her volunteer efforts was when she was walking home from school and two of those students told her they enjoyed her presentation.
"I know that's not a big situation, but to me, it meant that my message got across to two people."
Lank holds monthly bake sales at school, featuring nut-free treats, in support of Anaphylaxis Canada. To date, she has raised $500.
She maintains her own blog at www.teenwithfoodallergies.tumblr.com, where she reflects on the choices she's made living with food allergies and shares tips for readers in similar situations.
Kyle Dine, a program co-ordinator at Anaphylaxis Canada who works with the youth program, described Lank as hardworking and dedicated.
"To be a teenager and not only just deal with food allergies, but to go a step above and make things easier for others with food allergies, is just incredible," Dine said.
"She's an absolute MVP of our team. She's really remarkable."
Last summer, she volunteered at the office of clinical immunologist Dr. Allan Becker at Health Sciences Centre, developing online resources for youth with food allergies, interviewing teens in the clinic and presenting to the office team.
Lank, who enjoys playing the piano and competing in a variety of sports in her free time, maintains a 98 per cent academic average and plans to study medicine in university.
"There are a lot of doctors that care and take the time to learn each patient's situation," she said. "I hope I can be one of those doctors someday."
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