When Geneva Ost asked Mary Bieker for help starting a new support group in Great Bend, there was no arm-twisting involved. Bieker jumped at the chance.
Both women have been diagnosed with celiac disease, and want to share information with their peers about the life-changing condition. The next meeting of the Gluten Free & Celiac Disease Support Group is set for 5:30-7 p.m. Monday, May 6 at St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center.
“I knew Mary was gluten-free and gave her a call,” Ost said. “We got together and this group was born last fall. It is designed for people who need to go gluten-free because of health issues.”
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats “that people cannot seem to digest,” Ost commented. She added that celiac disease causes a number of conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, other digestive disorders, joint inflammation, anemia and abdominal pain.
Donna Krug, Barton County extension agent in family and consumer science, will present an educational program at this meeting in St. Rose’s basement-level St. Dominic Room. It is open to anyone who wants to learn more about gluten and celiac disease.
Ost is aware that going gluten-free is nearing fad-diet status but she can’t imagine why anyone would do this if they didn’t have to.
“The food is expensive and time-consuming to prepare,” said Ost, who is a home-health aide at Golden Belt Home Health & Hospice. “It is not convenient or an easy thing to do. I cannot imagine why you would put yourself through it.”
Bieker echoed those comments, noting that living gluten-free is not just a diet – “it literally changes your life.” Therefore, she adds, those with celiac disease need the support of family and friends.
“I am fortunate to have this support,” said Bieker, who is a speech-language pathologist in USD 428. “It is difficult for others to understand the changes that have to be made. My family cannot just take off on a day trip without planning ahead about meals.”
Both Ost and Bieker have children with celiac disease too. So far, the support group has been for adults but that could change. “I know there are families out there dealing with these issues,” Bieker said. “We want to be able to help them too.”
Bieker emphasized that even though there are many negative aspects to living gluten-free, there are also positives.
“The improvement to your health is immeasurable,” Bieker explained. “I was very sick for six months before my diagnosis and I don’t want my daughter to go through that. This is why we wanted to start this group – to show others that even though a gluten-free lifestyle is challenging, the rewards of increased energy and good health are priceless.”
The support group meets on the first Monday of odd-numbered months – January, March, May, July, September and November. For more information, contact Ost by calling 620-786-4265 or Bieker by calling 620-617-1217.