A HAMPSHIRE mum of a girl with severe allergies says that her daughter's life has been transformed since visiting a camp set up by Hollywood legend Paul Newman's charity.

Little Olivia Withers from Gosport was born with gastroschisis, meaning that her intestines were outside of her body.

Her mum, Emily Jenkins, says that it was a very traumatic time, but that Olivia was fortunately treated by experts in the field at Southampton General Hospital, where she received excellent care.

She was closely monitored by the hospital after her discharge and within a few months was diagnosed with a cows milk allergy.

This was despite being exclusively breastfed, so Emily had to go onto a dairy-free diet, but Olivia, who has just turned nine, continued to be a very ill child.

At three, a blood test revealed a raft of further allergies, to nuts, wheat, eggs, shellfish, soya and sesame seeds as well as milk.

Olivia's family were given an EpiPen and she was placed on a variety of medications.

Daily Echo:

Olivia with her mum and step-dad

Emily says that it was a relief to know what was wrong, and that within a few months, Olivia's health had clearly improved.

But even though her family have been very careful about preventing her from being exposed to allergens, she is so allergic that she has had reactions such as lip swelling, asthma attacks, vomiting, diarrhoea and hives without ever ingesting one of these foods.

These have happened when she touched a table which must have had an allergen on it and then touched her face, when her mother kissed her head sometime after eating egg and when she was near children eating chocolate.

Olivia has grown up having to have a variety of steps taken to protect her from her allergies. These include taking antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, inhalers, various creams and medication for reflux.

She suffers from eczema and is also allergic to the sun, having to have special cream and often staying inside in the summer.

When she goes to birthday parties her family take her own food for her, when she was younger she had to sit on a separate 'allergy' table for dinners at school, and she sometimes has to eat her meals separately from her parents, to avoid contamination.

Eating out can be challenging, with tables and chairs in cafes and restaurants often have crumbs on them, which could make Olivia very sick.

And events for children are often littered with allergens which could cause a serious flare-up, from sweets and biscuits that are often handed out without checking with parents to play dough, which is made with wheat.

"We manage it, but it is a work up," says Emily.

"We try to make it slick for Olivia, and she's amazing. She's really good about it and she's never tried to have anything that she knows she's not supposed to. It can't be easy for her.

"Sometimes, she does mind. She has said things to me like 'I don't think they like me because of my allergies' but she's been much happier since we went to Over the Wall."

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Olivia and Emily at Over the Wall

Over the Wall, the charity founded by Paul Newman, is celebrating its 20th birthday this year.

It provides camps for children and young people affected by serious illness and their families at a variety of locations. The camps include ones for specific health issues.

One of the camps they run is a special allergy camp, with no allergens for any of the participants present, meaning that children can sit and eat together, without having to worry about someone else's food making them sick.

Emily first became aware of the allergy camps when they were featured on Children in Need, and got in touch.

She and her partner Kristian Biggs, Olivia's step-father, took Olivia to family camp together, before they and Olivia had the confidence for her to go on her own.

"Over the Wall has been an absolute game changer for us," says Emily.

"All of us have grown so much in confidence since going there. They took away the worry for us.

"We did things like playing boardgames together, having a laugh and eating together. We also met another family with a little girl who is slightly older than Olivia and has the same allergies, which has been great for Olivia.

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Olivia at Over the Wall

"Olivia often has to wear gloves because her hands get sore, and so does the other girl, so they just both put their gloves on and went off to play and suddenly the stigmas was removed.

"We try our best not to let Olivia's allergies be a barrier, but if everyday could be like it was at Over the Wall, that would be perfect."

Olivia's family are now building on their newfound confidence by going on holiday to Disneyland Paris to celebrate Olivia's birthday – a trip they wouldn't have contemplated before going to the camp.

"Over the Wall has given us the confidence to try different things," she says.

"We'd love to go back and we also think more people should know about it. I never knew Paul Newman had done so much for charity. It's amazing really."

For more information about Over the Wall, visit www.otw.org.uk

What is Over the Wall?

Over 20 years, Over The Wall has seen exponential growth in the number of children it provides camps for. In 1999, the first camp allowed 25 children to experience camp. This year, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, it will enable more than 1,000 campers to attend camp – a record number for the charity.

Since Paul Newman launched Over The Wall with businessman Joe Woods in 1999, the charity has enabled thousands of children affected by serious illness to benefit from its free residential camps in the UK, by allowing them to ‘kick back and raise a little hell,’ as Paul put it.

The camps are designed to provide seriously ill children with life-changing experiences, allowing them to face challenges and overcome obstacles, helping them to achieve more than they ever imagined possible.

Paul’s camps are now a global community of 30 different charities known as the SeriousFun Children’s Network, that serve families and children around the world. Over The Wall is the only member of the network in the UK.