When Celiac is Silent

in Celiac, Features
Published: November 29, 2011

Anemia Was Her Only Clue

All Rebecca Pitt wanted to do that day in April 2004 was donate to the blood drive at McMaster University’s medical center in Hamilton, Canada. The recent nursing graduate felt it was the right thing to do – patriotic, even. Only she was told she couldn’t because she was anemic. She’d been taking iron pills for six years after a doctor had found her hemoglobin levels too low, blaming it on her menstrual cycle. But the blood-drive nurse thought something sounded off, and urged Pitt to go back to her doctor.

Many tests and specialist referrals later, Pitt was told her blood contained the antibodies associated with celiac disease, and an intestinal biopsy confirmed the diagnosis. It was hard to comprehend: here she was, a normal weight and a size 6, and the doctor was telling her she was malnourished. What to do?

She didn’t want to continue poisoning her body but it was just so hard to give up foods she loved. In the end, she compromised, spending the six weeks in between the blood test and the biopsy saying goodbye to gluten – with gusto. “I even ate a whole plate of cinnamon rolls, thinking I would never be able to eat anything that good again,” recalls Pitt, who is now an ICU nurse. “I gained 5 pounds!” Since the positive biopsy, she has learned to manage the gluten-free diet well.

Today, Pitt is the proud new mom of a baby girl – and often wonders what would have happened if that nurse hadn’t urged her to go back to her doctor. Would she even have been able to get pregnant, given that the disorder has been known to cause infertility in up to 8 percent of patients?

“I never got the nurse’s name but I consider her my guardian angel,” she says. “The diet has made a real difference in my life.”

First published in Allergic Living magazine, Fall 2011 edition.
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