Although I only attended the College of William and Mary for one semester, I can say that leaving the school in the Fall of 2002 deeply saddened me. I realized there was no other option for me, as my health was more important than anything else. My health problems started getting worse my first semester freshman year when I began suffering abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, gas, and occasional vomiting all at the same time. My roommate dragged me to the health center where I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A few weeks later, I started having internal bleeding, but I did not tell anyone about it out of embarrassment. I also began feeling tired, so I decided to reduce my very active lifestyle and avoid social events. More importantly, I was trying to do my best academically, but deep down inside I knew I was sick and depressed.
Having been a usually healthy child, my parents started paying closer attention to my symptoms since they appeared serious. My mother, who is a gynecologist, began to suggest it could be Celiac Disease. After all, I fit the perfect model as a baby: projectile vomit, failure to thrive, diarrhea, etc. All the pediatric specialists my parents took me to in Venezuela, where I grew up, said I was just lactose intolerant! What about my amenorrhea and constant bloating as a teenager? What about my diagnosis of osteopenia and all the visits to endocrinologists?
Thus, my parents decided that it was necessary to go see a gastrointestinal specialist back at home in Washington DC. Dr. Haddad, a gastroenterologist at Georgetown Hospital said he could not give an accurate diagnosis until I got an upper endoscopy and a colonoscopy done. After having undergone both medical procedures, the doctor gave the final diagnosis: I had developed Celiac Disease.
Soon enough, I took medical leave and moved back home at the end of my first semester in college when my primary care physician diagnosed me with depression.
This life-changing diagnosis helped me discover my passion for public health. I suffered greatly knowing I was a victim to a genetic autoimmune disease. Still, my biggest fear was not the disease itself, but the treatment: a drastic and sudden lifestyle change in which I would have to follow a rigorous life-long adherence to a gluten free diet. No pills, no surgery… To most people it sounds easy, but not to me since it required great behavioral change on my part. Changing behaviors was not an easy thing. Suddenly, I was forced to learn that a healthy lifestyle for me required behavior modification that included eliminating unhealthy practices, such as eating gluten, and replacing them with behaviors that contributed to my overall wellness.
After transferring colleges several times, I found a home at The George Washington University’s School of Public Health & Health Services. There, my true desire and commitment to change and become a public health practitioner became very obvious to everyone who knew me. I began doing projects and presentations on Celiac Disease in every class that allowed for a subject of choice. I began to dream about increasing awareness of Celiac Disease after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public health. But day by day, class after class, I began to realize that I needed to do more.
It has been 4 years since my diagnosis of Celiac Disease and looking back I thank this condition for what it has shown me thus far. Now I am pursuing a Masters degree in Public Health with a concentration in Health Promotion and I dream of increasing awareness about this disease every day!
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.