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'Learning as we go process' | Mom of food-sensitive baby struggles amid formula shortage

Two-year-old Ellie relies on Elecare Jr. for most of her nutrition due to food allergies. But a recall has forced this Virginia family to make sacrifices.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — For some parents and caretakers across the country, the shortage of infant formula has been an inconvenience, but for a Falls Church, Virginia family it has meant an entire lifestyle change. 

Ellie Arroyo is almost 2-years-old and she can only tolerate four solid foods. But medical experts have yet to pinpoint a diagnosis.  

"Her doctors have described her as a conundrum, as a puzzle," her mother Jillian Arroyo said. "It's a learning-as-we-go process. She has been reacting to foods through my breast milk since she was a newborn."   

Ellie relies on Elecare Jr. to get the rest of her nutrition. The problem is, that it is one of the products made by Abbott Nutrition, the embattled baby formula producer forced to do a massive recall of their products in February. 

Credit: Jillian Arroyo

Jillian says they have tried several alternative products for Ellie, but none have been successful. Concerned about her daughter's health, she decided to continue lactating, which meant a huge undertaking for the entire family. 

"Dairy, wheat, oats, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, and tomato, all of those things I do not eat, which means my husband doesn't eat," Arroyo said about the family's diet restrictions that are now posted on their refrigerator. 

The Arroyo family was bombarded with letters and phone calls warning them of a potential shortage of formula, but Jillian Arroyo said experts offered little to no solutions.

Credit: Jillian Arroyo

"Every time we would get a letter we would more and more frustrated that people were just telling us about it and nobody was doing anything," she said.

Finally, Jillian Arroyo decided to channel her frustration into action. With the support from her husband and father, the new mother decided to share her story on social media. She created pages on Facebook and Instagram under the name "Abbott Formula Recall" where she urged parents like her, to send letters to their congressional representatives.

Jillian Arroyo said at first the responses were generic, but as the weeks went on and the shortage got worse, the responses from elected officials seemed to change. 

Congress recently approved a bill intended to improve access to baby formula as the U.S. contends with the shortage. It now goes to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature. 

"Seeing things starting to happen, it's overwhelming," Jillian Arroyo said. "For us it's a relief. I don't think we feel totally at ease, that we are out of the woods, and that it is all of this is going to be fixed. It's certainly not all going to be fixed tomorrow, it is going to take time."

Jillian Arroyo said the one thing she wants all mothers and caretakers to know, is that they are not alone in such difficult times. 

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