Faces of Celiac-Marylee J. Dumas

Mary, as she preferred to be called, was born to an old New England farm family that originally immigrated to the United States from England in the early 1700’s. She was one of ten children, six of which were girls. All but two of Mary’s siblings have passed. Mary passed nearly two years ago due to what the pathologist ruled as a heart attack, although Mary had no known heart conditions with the exception of borderline high cholesterol.

Mary lost her mother to polio when she was just nine years old. This left a lasting scar for Mary that shadowed her for the remainder of her life. At the age of 14, Mary, unhappy with her father’s drinking and home life in general, ran away from her home in New Hampshire and moved in with a Vermont farm family. Once there, she got a job at a local poultry processing plant where she plucked the feathers off chickens for a living. Several years later she would marry Kenneth, one of the sons of the farmer who had taken her in.

Kenneth and Mary eventually got their own apartment and soon had their first child. Later they would have a total of six children; however, the eldest, Debbie, died at just 4 years old from spinal meningitis. This loss, along with other irreconcilable differences, would eventually lead to divorce for the couple.

Still a vibrant and attractive woman, Mary kept fit and ate healthy. After the divorce, money became tight. To save money, she used her farming skills to grow and can her own organic but not yet gluten free food. In those days, cow manure was the natural fertilizer of choice.

The first few years of being a single parent were trying and Mary experienced occasional bouts of depression, which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide from her children. During these times she would become frustrated and angry over the simplest things. While in her early thirties, Mary began to become ill and depressed more and more often. Was it the stress of motherhood and everything that goes with it? She didn’t know. She began seeking out help from doctors in the nearby town. She went from one doctor to the next, trying to find one who could tell her what was wrong. Her intuition told her there was something seriously wrong health-wise, but every doctor she saw said she was just overworked and overstressed.

She finally found a specialist several towns away who was affiliated with a large research hospital. He wasn’t sure what was wrong, but suspected Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). After a number of tests to rule out other disorders, her doctor settled on IBS; however, the specialist was still not convinced her symptoms were exclusively IBS.

Her doctor also suspected Mary might suffer from allergies. After being subjected to a prick-test panel, Mary learned she had many allergies, ranging from cat dander to mold, rag weed and even pollen.

Meanwhile her general practitioner had Mary convinced she was a hypochondriac. And it didn’t help that some of the town’s people, like so many small towns, gossiped about Mary’s condition.

Mary’s depression became more acute as time went on and she began to feel fatigued more and more often. She would come home from work, feed her children and then lie down from exhaustion. Sometimes she would sleep throughout the entire weekend, rarely getting out of bed.

Many years later, Mary sought out alternative doctors who tried acupuncture, hydrotherapy and a plethora of new-aged therapies and treatments to help her regain her vitality. All seemed to work temporarily and marginally, but she eventually became resigned to the fact she would never truly be completely healthy again. She developed osteoporosis while in her 60’s.

Several years ago, Mary received a call from her middle child Steven, who was living in Chicago at the time. Steven was a college professor and had been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease. He had spoken to Mary on many occasions about health-related issues; and they both found themselves comparing their symptoms. It was during this particular phone call that Steven suggested Mary get tested for Celiac Disease. He had learned a great deal in the recent months about the disease and read an article suggesting there was a genetic link. The article quoted a study that 1 in 22 first-degree relatives were found to have the disease. This was enough to suggest she might consider getting tested. As they recalled past health conditions one by one, it became clear to Steven that his mother was indeed Celiac. Their family was riddled with stomach ailments. Mary’s youngest son Jeff suffers from GERD; her only surviving daughter Cindy and oldest son Michael both have suffered from gastrointestinal issues for many years. Mary even recalled having ADHD-like symptoms as a child, as did Steven. Some of the reasons she held Steven back from first grade was because of his small stature and inability to focus and pay attention. His school teachers just assumed he was immature and supported Mary’s decision to hold him back. Steven even displayed mild dyslexia, which we now know has been linked to Celiac Disease.

Before they hung up the phone, Steven made Mary promise to get tested. She agreed to speak to her doctor at her next appointment. Unfortunately it would be too late.

A few weeks later, on Sunday March 18, 2012, Mary passed away of an apparent heart attack. She was 71 years young. In case you haven’t already figured it out, Mary Dumas was my mother. She was one of the most compassionate people I have ever known and she was my greatest teacher. Her birthday was yesterday, January 15th. I would like to dedicate this Faces of Celiac post to all those who have suffered and continue to suffer from Celiac Disease because they have yet to be diagnosed.
moving to gluten free nutrition can change your life.

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