Since her daughter was born 15 years ago, Diane Crawford-Errington has had to fight the rest of the world to keep her safe.
Tyler Payne suffers from a collection of allergies as long as a shopping list. At school, she has to be armed with an EpiPen, in case she comes into contact with peanuts.
Every cupboard in the house has to be cleared out to make sure there is no gluten that could make her ill. Sometimes, even a hot shower is enough
to induce a breakout of welts.
So when Tyler told Diane last year that she wanted to spend six months studying at a school on the other side of the world, she was petrified.
“Tyler has suffered severe allergies since she was a baby,” the Whangarei mum says.
“When she was about two, she was thought to have had leukaemia, but it turned out to be infected eczema.”
Tyler has coeliac disease, anaphylaxis to peanuts, allergies to citrus fruit, dust mites, lanolin, pine trees, washing powder, grass and flowers. She can’t
use certain soaps and moisturisers, and has to be extremely careful what she eats.
But she hasn’t let her allergies get in the way of her dream to go on a student exchange to the United States, although it’s been hard work finding a family willing to take her.
“Travel is something I’ve always wanted to do, and when I heard about the opportunity to be an exchange student, it seemed like the best way,” Tyler says.
“But I have to live my life differently. Especially when I go to other people’s houses, I need to be careful.”
Tyler first applied to foreign exchange group Student Travel Schools (STS) New Zealand last May, but was told the only way she could get support for her trip was if she found a willing host family herself.
She and Diane set up a Facebook page to get the word out, and recruit foreign families prepared to deal with Tyler’s allergies.
Two potential hosts were found, but in both cases their attempts to make it happen failed. In the first instance, Tyler was too young. With the other option, she would have had to go to an expensive private school, because the public system in the area already had too many overseas students.
Finally, Tyler and Diane were put in touch with Shelli and Manny Arguello in Utah. The Arguellos have already hosted 18 other exchange students.
Shelli works as a co-ordinator for Face the World, an exchange scheme in the US that heard about Tyler’s plight from STS.But, despite their experience, Diane says the Arguellos are worried about catering for Tyler.
“They will have to change the house a bit, but Tyler looks after herself, cleans her own room. She’s just going to be teaching them to cook gluten free.”
Independent health insurance had to be found, and Tyler’s packing a bag full of the only type of moisturiser and soap her skin can handle.
“It’s lucky she’s going somewhere warm,” Diane laughs.
“She’s taking about 10kg of medication – there’s not going to be room for clothes!”
It’s a big step for a girl who has never spent more than a few weeks away from her mum. Tyler has only been as far as Australia, but says there isn’t a doubt in her mind about how much she wants to travel – and she can’t wait to get on the plane at the end of the month.
She’s hoping that her determination to experience things will be an inspiration to other young people.
When Tyler was small, then-solo mum Diane felt very isolated, but over the years they’ve built up a strong network, and Tyler likes to be used as an example to younger kids.
“Already we’re hearing from other parents, saying, ‘I never thought my daughter would be able to do anything like an exchange,’ so it’s great to show that it is possible,” Diane says.
And Tyler’s friends are as enthusiastic as she is.
“At first they didn’t believe me – I guess I didn’t seem like the type to suddenly decide to leave. But now they’re excited. They’re all requesting I bring things back!”
Susan Edmunds.Photos by Fiona Tomlinson