Jerome Bettis is a loving husband and father and is the driving force behind The Bus Stops Here Foundation which is dedicated to improving the quality of life of troubled and underprivileged inner-city youth. But what many people don’t know is that Bettis lives with a severe allergy to shellfish.

A formidable opponent

Bettis’ allergy requires constant vigilance and affects every part of his life.

“The first thing to understand is you need to be conscious of your surroundings at all times,” says Bettis, who is sixth on the all-time list of NFL rushing yard leaders. “To help ensure that there is no cross-contamination in the preparation of your food, for example you need to alert all of the staff, at the restaurant that you are eating at, that you have an allergy. That means the waiter, the chef, the manager…”

“I make sure that I have my two epinephrine auto-injectors with me at all times.”

“Avoiding my allergens is my first play,” says Bettis, “but there’s always a chance something could slip through my defense and cause a severe allergic reaction.”

The best plan of attack

To manage his condition, Bettis implements risk-reduction game plans such as alerting all friends and family of his allergies. “That creates more eyes for me in case I miss something,” he says.

He also ensures that he has constant access to effective and life-saving medication. “I make sure that I have my two epinephrine auto-injectors with me at all times,” says Bettis, who originally hails from Detroit, Michigan. He uses a new generation of auto-injector that is programmed to verbally walk the individual through the injecting process. “I listen to the directions that my auto-injector gives me and then seek immediate medical attention.”

Bettis is dedicated to raising awareness of severe food allergies through his charitable work with The Jerome Bettis Bus Stops Here Foundation. He has also created a playbook to educate kids living with severe food allergies on how to stay safe both on and off the field.

Bettis advises any parent who has just discovered their child is suffering with a severe food allergy to sit down and explain the realities of the condition to the child; to let them know that, in order to manage the allergen, they need to be conscious of their surroundings and all things that go into their body.

“The second thing I would tell the child is that there is medicine available for you to carry with you,” Bettis says.

Education is the key to ensuring that you and those around you are proactive to avoid contact with allergens and are prepared to properly react and treat if contact occurs, and always — play it safe.