40 Under 40 Class of 2008

Dr. Jonathan Bayuk

Age 35: Partner, Hampden County Physician Associates

A food allergy — to a morsel of rice, a dab of peanut butter — can kill within minutes. And that, says Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, has many parents “totally freaked out.”

But as an allergist and immunologist, he sees his job as not just telling people what to avoid, but helping them live as normal a life as possible.

“There are a lot of myths out there, and also a need for teaching in the schools,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he consults, pro bono, with many local schools regarding their food-allergy policies.

To help dispel those myths, and also assist parents with managing their anxieties over a dangerous but manageable condition, Bayuk is writing a resource book on food allergies, including information on how responsive area restaurants are to allergy sufferers.

“We’re looking at restaurants and places where families go with kids, and rating them,” he said. “Some places can tell you what’s in everything, and the chef will carefully prepare your meal for you, and at others, there are no accommodations, and no guarantees.”

With a busy practice to maintain — in addition to training allergy and immunology residents at Baystate Medical Center — writing the book has been slow going, but Bayuk intends to finish it and distribute it free of charge. It’s a commitment to his field that also includes leadership of the Western Mass. Food Allergy Network, a nonprofit organization he founded in part to educate the public.

“Most schools are great about dealing with this issue, but sometimes — and I’m not sure why — they’re not as interested,” he said. But he suggested that finances often come into play. “The federal government subsidizes peanut butter, and schools are pretty strapped for cash, so they’re stuck — they really need the peanut butter, but parents need a peanut-free school.”

However, Bayuk said, most school officials are receptive to the issue when he talks with them face to face. “I haven’t had any situations where superintendents are resistant to it. It’s more, ‘let’s go ahead and make a policy if it makes sense for the kids.’

“I love my job,” he added. “I can’t think of a better one. I always feel good going to work because, most of the time, I can solve problems.”

And give the family a stress-free dinner out, too.

Joseph Bednar