“I had been sick a lot, on and off all of my life. One moment I would be perfectly fine, and the next I would want to go to bed. This was big problem for my parents because I had four sisters, and the extra attention given to me was hard on everyone. They would tease and accuse me of being a hypochondriac. At the same time, I was having a terrible time in school and couldn’t learn to read.” says Margaret with a mixture of frustration, sadness and resolve.
Imagine spending your childhood, among the happiest years of your life, feeling this way.
Margaret’s illnesses were a mystery to all concerned. As a baby, she cried a lot and was labeled colicky and sensitive. After a bad reaction to a TB test, she spent time in an iron lung. First, doctors thought she was going deaf and then, at another point, they thought she was losing her eyesight. A frightening experience was having doctors stick pins all over her head for an electroencephalogram to find out what was wrong with her brain.
As Margaret entered school, doctors suspected a problem with her diet yet didn’t know what to do. In second grade, she was given eggnog to boost her energy. In third grade, she was so unfocused and out of synch, she had to repeat the year which dropped her into her younger sister’s class, a nightmare for both girls.
Margaret was always looking for answers. She tried therapy, numerous doctors and self-improvement groups, yet her ill health continued into adulthood. Margaret married. When she became pregnant she threw up a lot, only gaining 12 pounds while her baby weighed 7 pounds 13 oz. She feels it was a miracle she had a healthy child. As she grew older, she had to wear expandable clothes because her stomach would puff up without warning making her look five months pregnant.
In her 20’s, she opened a catering business, Margaret Fearey Walsh, Inc. She was able to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York to enhance her skills in classic French cooking, an amazing opportunity. In 1980, the business was rated “Top Catering Company” in Philadelphia.
Two months later, exhausted and not thinking clearly, Margaret chose to go out of business. With this decision made, she was so depressed that she couldn’t even get out of bed. At that point, not able to care for herself let alone anyone else, her parents took her daughter to live with them. They thought she was an unfit mother which devastated Margaret. The saddest part of all was her parents wouldn’t help her to heal the relationship with her daughter.
Dragging herself out of bed, Margaret found a job as a manufacturer’s rep for a food broker selling mainly breaded prepared foods. Her job required tasting the samples and Margaret became extremely anemic.
We know today that the top two symptoms of celiac disease are anemia and depression. This was over-looked by the doctors who thought Margaret had cancer of the intestines. They performed unnecessary major surgery and finally diagnosed the celiac disease after 37 long years. There were no villi in her intestines at all; the disease was starving her body of all nourishment. It took two years to fully recover because the only medical cure was to eat healthy gluten-free food. After the operation, eating a crumb of gluten would cause her stomach to pop out in minutes so she looked seven months pregnant, while leaving her body non-functional for up to 10 hours.
Later, Margaret uncovered in her grandmother’s memoirs that the first-born son – Margaret’s uncle – had died of pneumonia at age two complicated by a problem with his diet. Reading this, Margaret realized that she had inherited celiac disease from her father’s side of the family. The relief of finally understanding what was wrong with her diet was followed by the discovery through a series of tests that she was dyslexic. Happily, with a clearer mind thanks to her new diet, Margaret was able to minimize the effects of her dyslexia along with the help of computers to do letters, spell check and grammar. Finally, her albatross was gone.
Today, she is devoted to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) as a way to give back and help others. In the future, she plans to finish a cookbook using the recipes from her catering business to create gluten-free, elegant and easy meals. Margaret now takes those newly diagnosed with celiac to different markets to shop for the special foods and advises them on cooking the new way.
Margaret had breast cancer which she feels had a direct connection to her years of undiagnosed and untreated celiac disease and a weakened immune system. “For those of us with this disease, we can never let down our guard or be careless.” Even with a perfect diet, vitamins and supplements are a must to stay healthy.
“Because of my business background, life experiences and food training, it is my intention is to raise $1 million for celiac awareness and research in the next five years. We have all suffered far too long and we need to stop that now,” Margaret declares.
Does this story sound similar to your or a family members? You might have celiac disease. Find out now, take our celiac disease symptoms checklist.