Allergies Are No Laughing Matter for Julie Bowen

Julie Bowen and her “Modern Family” character, Claire Dunphy, have three things in common: They have three children, are passionate about their families and will stop at nothing to make their little ones feel protected, happy and safe

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
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More: Should I have your first name changed to Emmy and your last name to Winner?
Julie Bowen: Oh, gross! [Laughs.] I would have to die before you see my name appear like that.

More: You should be celebrating your second Emmy win for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for your work as Claire on ABC's Modern Family.
JB: While I am so deeply flattered and thrilled by it, there is also the factor of horror and disbelief because it is such a “me, me, me” moment. OK, yes, I am secretly happy, so I guess I am deeply conflicted by it all [laughs]. 

More: I read somewhere that your oldest son, Oliver, broke your last trophy. Is that true?
JB: Yes, he did, but let me say it was my fault because I let him play with it. He is not traditionally great at hand-eye coordination or ball sports. Anyway, he was playing with it in the backyard with a plastic golf club. All of a sudden he made a perfect shot and golfed the golden ball right out of the lady’s hands.

More: Oh my God! Did you freak out?
JB: It was such a good shot that part of me was actually proud of him at that moment, because he never has connected quite like that. I should also add, the shot was a clean break, so she now has the ball falling over one arm.  

More: Speaking of kids, in addition to making you laugh, your oldest gave you quite a scare while you were in the middle of filming a scene. Take me back to that day.  
JB: Oh yeah, that was frightening. I was pregnant with my twins [John and Gus], which was taking up a lot of my mental and physical energy while I was shooting a scene on Boston Legal. I noticed I received a text from my husband saying, “I think we have a problem with Oliver. He had peanut butter.” I am thinking, Nah, he has had it before and was even stung by a bee. Although I was never a nervous-Nellie-type mom, when I saw the text picture, Oliver looked like he had been hit in the face numerous times. He was red, puffy, swollen and disfigured.

More: What was your reaction?
JB: I was so panicked, especially because I was filming all the way out in Manhattan Beach and was far away from where I was shooting. My husband had to immediately drive him to the emergency room, where he was treated with epinephrine. We soon came to learn that allergies can come to the surface after the second or third exposure to something like nuts and they can also get progressively worse over time.

More: That’s a tough lesson to learn on the fly.  
JB: Not only do we have to avoid nuts, but we also have to carry around an auto-injector.

More: I would freak out. 
JB: I did and I didn’t. I mean, I am the type of person who thinks there is always nothing wrong. I am a mind-over-matter person. I think there is a great gift in that, because while I didn’t ignore that there was a problem, I knew there was something wrong and I knew it had to be dealt with.  When my son went to the hospital and reacted so positively to the medication, we learned how to help him.

More: Now you are putting your celebrity to good use by paying it forward.
JB: Yes. I teamed up with a campaign called Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis ( This site is so kid friendly and even has cartoon characters, which children will love. It basically teaches everyone how to spot the signs and symptoms and what to do if someone you know has a food allergy. In my case, I am glad it was so severe. It forced me not to blow it off and pay attention. Many people see allergic reactions on a minor scale and think it is nothing. Trust me, I have been there; it is not.

More: Was Oliver’s life ever in danger? 
JB: Look, I am thrilled my husband was there, but let’s face it. He’s a dude and communicates like a dude. I never asked him specific details because I was not in the emergency room. I was only told the facts of what happened. I was never told he was in danger, but I now know that anaphylaxis can be deadly and that he needed the shot of epinephrine in order to breathe normally.

More: Was that the first time you ever encountered a food allergy?
JB: The first time I had ever seen what a food allergy could do to someone was back in college when a girl in my school died while eating chili. Sadly, she dropped dead in the restaurant because there was peanut butter in the chili. I mean, I don’t think chili as having nuts in it. Now one in 13 kids has been diagnosed with a food allergy, so we are all more aware of asking what ingredients are in food.

More: You can’t watch Oliver 24/7 because you star on the hottest show on TV.
JB: And in the world [laughs].

More: So do you worry that he might be exposed or eat something that could send him back to the ER?
JB: No, because his camp and school are very aware of his condition. The facility has two epinephrine injectors, and if there are kids with a food allergy, they eat at a different table where nuts aren’t allowed.

More: Does he feel like an outcast sitting at the other table?
JB: No, because there are so many kids with food allergies that this is considered the cool kids’ table. Crazy, huh? My fear was that because he has an allergy, people would treat him like the weird boy in the plastic bubble and not play with him. That is not the life I want for him. He is a kid. I want him to run around and have fun. Now he can without the worry because we are armed and prepared.

More: What about if he goes to a friend’s house for a playdate?
JB: That is what we need to remember. We need to make sure that medication is in his backpack and the parent of the child knows where it is.

More: While we are talking about health, let’s turn the spotlight back to you. You had to be fitted for a pacemaker when you were in your twenties.
JB: Yeah. I am not one who gives health a lot of thought, but I go for my regular checkups, eat healthy and exercise. When I learned I had a heart problem, I got it fixed. Luckily for me, it hasn't progressed, which would require complicated treatment.

More: How did they know a 20-year-old needed a pacemaker?
JB: I had an irregular heartbeat that anybody could identify pretty quickly. My sister happened to be in medical school and identified it as well. She detected it as being hugely irregular. She was the one who made me get help.

More: Way to go, sis!
JB: It wasn’t dramatic or anything. I am the type who is more clinical about these things. With me, I just wanted to know what it was and what the solution is and where I can get it.

More: Any limitations?
JB: Not a one. If anything, I am scared someone will forget to turn it off one day [laughs].

More: One thing people can’t turn off is Modern Family. Are you surprised by the show’s enormous success?
JB: Really surprised. I knew it was a good series, but I am just surprised to be on it. I am really proud of the work we put into it, and I love my cast mates. I mean, I get to laugh all day with Ty Burrell. How cool is that?

More: So forget the traditional family; it’s all about the modern family.
JB: Where we live in Los Angeles, my kids have many friends with two moms or two dads. That to them is completely normal, and I love it that they think that way.

More: How would you rate yourself as a working mom?
JB: I am doing better than I thought I would. Much to my surprise, I do have instincts. I didn’t have great baby instincts, and I definitely needed people to tell me what to do. I mean, they hand you a baby and you are like, What, what do I do? But now that they are grown, I give myself a 6 out of 10. I am also getting better at saying no to stuff. I hate saying no, because I know someone is going to hate me and I’ll feel as if I let someone down.

More: You carry immense pressure of family and career.
JB: When we are filming the show, I don’t think of how many people are watching our program. If anything, the balance is the extras, like doing publicity or promoting a good cause like At 8 p.m., when my kids collapse, so do I.

More: No wild parties?
JB: As I am driving home, I take out a box of wet makeup-remover wipes, take off my makeup and eyelashes and throw them all in the box. By the time I get home, I look completely unglamorized. From there I kiss my children, brush my teeth and crawl into bed for the evening.   

Click here to read “NCIS: Los Angeles” Star Chris O'Donnell Has It All.

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First Published Mon, 2012-11-05 23:55

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