Spreading the Word on the Gluten-Free Life
"I remember it was a Wednesday. I called the doctor’s office because I thought Ben had pneumonia again,” reminisces Rohanna Doylida, mother of Ben, who at the time was just 3. “Our regular doctor was not in, so we saw the other partner within the practice. She took one look at him and said, ‘We have to talk, there’s a problem.’ Within five minutes, she told me she believed my son had celiac disease. I had never heard those words before in my life.”
Like many mothers who receive diagnoses of what ails their child, Doylida immediately felt panic, and then plunged into research mode. She discovered that Celiac Disease (CD) is an autoimmune genetic disease that can be completely controlled with diet. Those who have celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, which is present in a staggering amount of foods, from bread to pasta to baked sweets, and even some medications. Research has shown that the number of Americans living with CD is four times more common than it was 60 years ago.
Doylida remembers Ben’s trouble beginning when he was just 18 months old. “He had a whole bunch of different symptoms that the doctors could not connect,” explain Doylida. From hospital stays for pneumonia to chronic sinus infections, Doylida thought Ben was just a difficult child. And while the doctors aren’t certain of a connection, Ben couldn’t express any feeling of pain to his mother because he wouldn’t—and Doylida believes couldn’t—speak to tell of his hurt. The entire family learned sign language to communicate with their son and brother. Around the time he was 3, Ben was “skin and bones and had the belly of woman who was nine months pregnant.” Terrible diarrhea followed. A team of doctors diagnosed his condition of celiac disease through a blood test, endoscopy, and biopsy of Ben’s intestinal wall.
After the acceptance of what lied ahead was complete, the Doylidas’ collective lives changed forever. Ben began to talk and interact at the same pace as his peers, his body started to function like that of a normal toddler, and the entire family began to eat gluten-free. “I don’t cook separately,” says Doylida. “A food allergy can be very isolating. But Ben knows within our home, no matter the holiday or who is coming for dinner, he doesn’t have to think twice about what he’s eating. Home is safe.”
Ben’s disease even altered the career path of his mother, who began her own gluten-free bakery with a partner on the North Shore. When the bakery closed a few years ago, Doylida looked back on what she loved most about the experience: helping families who were recently diagnosed navigate their way through the gluten-free lifestyle. This past September, her new business, The Gluten Free Consultant, was born. Through Doylida’s guidance, a family can begin to understand the gluten-free lifestyle. Doylida even offers to convert old family recipes to be gluten-free so everyone can enjoy in the family traditions.
Doylida is an active member of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. On October 15, The Center is hosting a free blood screening for anyone who has symptoms, or believes they might be at risk for Celiac Disease. The event will include a panel of experts during a Q & A session and will host 25 vendors offering the latest in gluten-free foods.
Ben, now 12, lives a normal life, hanging out with friends. “There was a time when having a food allergy or food issue was weird,” says Doylida. “Now, thankfully, there’s so much more knowledge out there.”
To register for the October 15 University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center October Blood Screening event, visit celiacdisease.net. To learn more about Rohanna Doylida’s services, visit