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Could it be celiac disease? One person’s story living with Celiac Disease

How watching a sibling deal with reoccurring stomach aches lead to their discovery of Celiac Disease.

“Ouch mom my stomach hurts” is the last thing any mom wants to always hear from their child. This was a regular statement in the McKenna household coming from the mouths of 13 year old Laura McKenna and her older sister.

Laura’s 16 year old sister suddenly became ill, suffering from symptoms such as anemia, fatigue and bloating that lasted for six weeks from eating Crème of Wheat. She was taken to the doctor, and since her symptoms were very common to other illnesses, it was hard to diagnose her. After her mom read a magazine that included information on Celiac Disease and its symptoms which include; diarrhea or constipation, poor growth, and weight gain in children, stomach upset, bloating gas, fatigue, anemia, weight loss, irritability, short stature and dental enamel defects her mom asked doctors to test for it.

Click here to view a story of another pediatric patient coping with celiac disease


Because Celiac Disease is a genetic disease the entire family was tested. Both Laura and her sister tested positive. According to Dr. Esperanza Garcia-Alvarez, Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge, Pediatric Celiac Center, “Celiac disease is under diagnosed”, she continues “ It is estimated that 1 out of 133 people have celiac disease, most of which do not know they have it.”

According to Dr. Garcia, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. Foods that contain gluten trigger an autoimmune response which damages the small intestine and food is not properly absorbed.  Other autoimmune diseases can be triggered by continuing to eat gluten.” Foods that contain gluten are grains such as wheat, barley, rye.

When Laura was initially diagnosed 10 years ago there were not a lot of gluten-free options. “Rice with almost everything, ordering meals offline and meals from the one gluten-free cook book” states Laura, is what she had all the time.  Going to school was a struggle for 7th grade Laura, as she had to explain to teachers what she could and couldn’t eat. Often packing the same lunch of hot dogs no bun, chips and snickers – which are all gluten-free, became exhausting. When those options became too familiar she would microwave a gluten-free macaroni and cheese, and that was only due to the separate microwave the school allowed her to use. After changing to a gluten-free only diet, which is the only treatment for Celiac Disease, almost immediately she began to gain a normal weight and even grew three-inches in height!

10 years later, a recent college graduate and active competitive world class sailor, Laura still has to follow a gluten-free diet. However, she no longer feels like an outsider, “restaurants and grocery stores have so many gluten free options these days. People know what I mean and understand me when I ask what are the gluten-free options?” says Laura McKenna.

Most people such as Laura McKenna and her older sister live years with stomach aches not knowing the cause. However, today there are more resources than there was 10 years ago when Laura was a kid. Today, Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, IL has a dedicated Pediatric Celiac Center with expert physicians and resources to treat Celiac Disease and other gastrointestinal related issues.  For more information, visit



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