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Don't take your health for granted

Pictured are Geannie and Ron Klimek. Geannie was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009. (Photo by Megan Radermacher)

What if you essentially had to learn how to eat all over again?

This became one woman's reality after being diagnosed with celiac disease.

Geannie Klimek of Alexandria was enjoying life as a recent retiree until November of 2009 when she was experiencing unbearable stomach pains, headaches and weight loss with no clear explanation why.

She had experienced these minor symptoms for quite some time but never thought anything of it.

Her husband, Ron, became worried enough to call the clinic for answers. The clinic recommended setting up an endoscopy appointment.

This procedure consists of looking into the patient's insides for any suspicious findings.

The endoscopy test showed that Geannie had celiac disease.

Neither she nor her husband had ever heard of the disease, but found out quickly how celiac disease would impact their lives from that point on.

Geannie recalls the doctor telling them after the diagnosis, "It will change your life forever."

And that it did.


Because celiac disease is a digestive condition caused by the intake of the protein gluten, Geannie had to eat a diet of gluten-free foods and also avoid other health and beauty products that contain gluten.

The couple had to be conscientious when grocery shopping. They needed to choose gluten-free products.

Their grocery expenses almost tripled because of the gluten-free requirements.

Geannie can no longer have breads; instead she has to substitute regular bread for gluten free bread - a change she has not enjoyed.

"It tastes like eating cardboard," she noted.

Extra caution needs to be taken when the couple goes out to eat because they've found not many restaurants have a wide variety of gluten-free options.

Cross contamination of gluten and gluten-free ingredients while the food is prepared is also a worry.

Geannie recalled a time when they went out to eat and informed the waitress of her gluten-free needs.

The waitress then replied, "Well, most of our products already have sugar in them."

It's fair to say the couple got a few chuckles out of that comment.

Not only is eating out difficult, but cooking meals at home has become tougher.

The couple explained that it's hard to cook for two people with different needs. Everything has to be separated and Geannie even has her own side of the toaster.

What many people aren't fully aware of is gluten can be found in things other than food, Geannie noted.

She had to find that out the hard way.

At one point, Geannie associated organic food labels with gluten-free foods, and soon after consuming the organic food, she found herself having a reaction.

She was overcome with a headache and became sick to her stomach.

"Organic does not mean gluten free," she said.

Despite being careful, there are still instances when Geannie unknowingly puts herself in harm's way.

For example, one time she was baking sugar cookies for Ron using regular flour. While she had no intention of eating the cookies, which contained gluten, she still became sick after inhaling the flour dust.

Geannie uses gluten-free shower products because gluten can be found in wheat protein, which is an ingredient in certain brands of shampoo and conditioner.

Gluten can also be found in cosmetics. She uses a special product line that produces all gluten-free lipsticks, lip pencils and glosses.

She and Ron have had to do extensive research and take extra time reading food labels because there are many foods with hidden gluten ingredients in them.


There may be many restrictions with celiac disease, but there are still things Geannie is able to have. Meats without seasoning, fruits and vegetables, among other gluten-free products, are still acceptable.

Geannie smiled as she said, "On a positive note, I can still have chocolate!"

Most recipes can be modified to incorporate gluten-free substitutes.

Geannie added that one-eighth of a teaspoon of gluten is enough to throw a person into a reaction.

Sometimes the reaction won't occur until one or two days after the consumption of gluten. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the reaction.


Geannie would not be able to cope with celiac disease without the love and support from her family, friends and celiac support group.

"Ron is very supportive; he's always there to encourage me and keep me going," she said.

Geannie noted that dealing with this disease can be very frustrating at times, so the support and assistance given by people around her is essential.

"There's no cheating with celiac disease," she remarked.

One helpful resource is the celiac support group both Geannie and Ron attend together each month (see sidebar).

There are many things Geannie has learned from this experience, but one stands out above the others:

"You take your health so for granted until you are faced with something like this."


Celiac disease is a digestive condition caused by the intake of the protein gluten, which is mainly found in foods containing wheat, oats, rye and barley.

People with this disease who consume foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines. This causes damage to the inner surface of the intestines and inhibits the absorption of certain nutrients.

Typical symptoms are weight loss, abdominal pain, diarrhea and malnutrition. Over time, the decreased nutrient intake can cause vitamin deficiencies that can deprive the brain, bones, peripheral nervous system, liver and other organs of needed nourishment.


The local celiac support group was created to give one the opportunity to learn about different gluten issues, share in group discussion of various gluten free topics and try gluten-free foods and recipes.

The support group meets the third Monday of each month in a pre-determined location. A potluck is held at 6 p.m. and every food item brought is gluten free.

Attendees share restaurant and grocery recommendations, books, websites and helpful tips to help live with celiac disease.

For more information, e-mail Nancy Olson, group coordinator, at or call her at (320) 766-5368.