A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Joe’s Story – Once a Celiac

by Mary Caruso

The story of a mother’s journey with her son and a remarkable healing from Celiac’s Disease

This is a story about my son, Joe, and our experience of God’s love and mercy in his life. Joe experienced a physical healing when he was 17 years old, for which we are deeply grateful.

A few weeks before Joe was born, my doctor suspected that I might be pregnant with twins! He had an ultrasound done and we learned that Joe was a very big baby with a big placenta. Joe weighed in on his due date at 10lbs, 5 oz.

In Joe’s early years he was always a very lively, robust, happy, animated, healthy child. Needless to say, he was off the growth charts. As he got older, though, that changed. Joe had slowed down in his growth significantly. So much so that his two younger siblings were surpassing him in size. I was also concerned because Joe always seemed to be extremely hungry.I just couldn’t feed him enough.

When Joe was 13, (March, 2003) I took him to the doctor for a regular physical. It was confirmed that he hadn’t grown much since his last physical. At this point our pediatrician referred an endocrinologist to us. In October, 2003 we visited this doctor and a series of tests were performed on Joe.

What we learned was that Joe had Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease (also referred to as Witch’s Brew) was a strong intolerance to gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, malt and most processed foods. In 2003, the FDA had not yet legalized the required allergen list, mandatory on all packaged foods. The restrictions of a Celiac diet are greater than the 6 other major food allergies combined. A lifetime diet with those things removed is the only treatment. Celiac left untreated can develop into intestinal and colon cancer as well as other problems.

After learning of Joe’s condition from the endocrinologist, I prayed as to how to inform him of this situation. I told Joe that he merely had to stop eating wheat and he would then feel better and begin to grow. Celiac was preventing his body from growing because he was not absorbing nutrients and fat. The gluten was continually damaging his villa in his small intestine. Joe was actually in a state of malnutrition and that explained why he was always “starving”.

So this all seemed simple enough. But this was not the reality at all. Joe and I learned so very much about his new diet. Unfortunately the ingredients he had to eliminate from his diet were found in so very many foods…dressings, sauces, food starch, cereals, pizza, pastas, desserts, candies, meats, ice creams, pretzels, bagels, muffins, donuts, snacks, fast foods, soups, crackers, breads…even the glue on envelopes and some chap stick! Also, at this time, Gluten-free products were few and far between.

Because of all that this meant, life became very different. Trips to the Asian Food Market, to purchase tapioca, potato, rice and other flours and starches became frequent, as well as trips to the health food store. Joe could no longer have so many of his favourite foods (raviolis). The thought that Joe would never have these foods was at times overwhelming and depressing both for him and myself.

This diet required a lot of time, patience and learning. My love for Joe motivated me to try to feed him the very best way I could. And Joe was always so grateful for all I would do for him. He always thanked me for every thing I did for him. Joe’s dad would also find specialty items on trips to New York City and this would help greatly.

When I first explained to Joe about the disease and what we needed to do, he seemed to handle it very well. As time went on, the hard reality set in, and Joe found himself constantly in situations where he couldn’t partake in what his friends were eating. He often found himself in situations where there was nothing for him to eat. Although America was running on Dunkin Donuts, Joe was not. And this was just so hard for Joe and our whole family. It affected our household as we eliminated poptarts, bagels, frozen pizzas, oreos etc. from our kitchen.

One of the results of Celiac in Joe’s life was frustration. Joe’s spirituality gave him strength to do what he had to do. His relationship with God enabled him to carry this cross as well as he did. He also had fear about his health and his future. One night I found Joe upset lying in bed. He was wondering how, if he someday was married, a wife would cook and bake for him with this complicated diet.

On the brighter side, Joe began to grow and did he grow! After three months on his gluten-free diet, he gained over twenty pounds. And he was starting to grow taller, too. He continued to put on weight very nicely up until his 17th birthday, when he measured just under 5ft. 10 inches. He also began to eat moderately and didn’t feel like he was always “starving”. His hair was growing, his feet grew and he didn’t have stomach ailments anymore. I would also say that Celiac Disease in Joe’s life, increased his character and cultivated a greater reliance on God. This was the most significant growth that I believe took place for Joe.

So three and a half years later (March/2007) a priest with a healing ministry was visiting our town. Our family was hopeful that Joe may have an opportunity to have Father pray with him for a healing. We said a Novena to St. Joseph as well as a Divine Mercy Novena. March is a special month for Joe as his birthday is March 1st. Also, Joe’s patron, St. Joseph, has a feast day on March 19th and Joe’s namesake, my dad, Joe Caruso was born on March 28th. In addition, Joe was baptized, received First Communion and was confirmed in our parish, named St. Joseph’s. So in this month, Father came to a nearby parish and Joe was there as well, ready to be healed. Joe eagerly approached

Father, explained his need and Father prayed with Joe. Father’s healing ministry took place over the course of a week. One of the evenings of his ministry we were able to have him over for dinner. While the visiting priest was in our home he prayed over Joe again and told him to write to him once he was healed. A third time that week Father prayed with Joe at his school. By the end of the week Joe really had the sense that he was to be either healed or receive a greater grace to carry his cross. This left Joe with a deep peace.

Immediately following this, we made an appointment for Joe to be seen by a gastrointestinal doctor. Prior his visit, Joe needed to resume a gluten-filled diet to see what the effect would be. So Joe began to eat foods he had not had in years! And what a happy day for him when he enjoyed a bagel with ‘Taylor ham and cheese’ – I remember it well! And then raviolis for dinner! Joe then took a trip to visit his brother who lived in Minnesota. In his travels he could freely eat and not worry about packing his own food. Joe could even eat what the airplane served. And how helpful and convenient it was that Joe could eat regular food.

That Spring Joe had an endoscopy and colonoscopy done along with specific blood work…looking for Celiac Disease. One day a very happy, memorable message was left on our telephone answering machine (which we listened to over and over). Joe’s doctor informed us that all the testing done came out normal. His blood work tested negative and his pathology was fine. The doctor advised Joe to continue eating a normal diet, as he saw no reason for him to be restricted anymore.

Upon receiving the results of his tests (Wed. April 11th) Joe went to a nearby Shrine – St. Joseph’s Shrine – not far from our home - to come before the statue of St. Joseph to express his gratitude, with tears and deep amazement. He remembered what Father requested, and sent him an e-mail (on the other side of the world). Father happily replied immediately.

And five years later, Joe, (strong and healthy - he ran the New Jersey Marathon) is 22 years old and finishing college – and he is still thankful for what transpired. He said he wouldn’t change the past if he had the choice and that he recognized all that God had done in his life. This was so profound. How Awesome!

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