Attending a Celiac Disease Patient Conference: Part 1
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Intestinal Immune-Based Inflammatory Diseases Symposium at Columbia University. It was a joint event presented by Columbia’s Celiac Disease Center and the Jill Roberts Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Weill Cornell Medical College. I was there for the Patient Program, but it also included a CME track for physicians, dietitians and other healthcare providers.
I had been to conferences before, but never one that focused specifically on celiac disease. Needless to say, I was stoked to meet people who are just as excited to talk about gluten-related disorders as we are.
First up, I’m covering the scene: The People and The Food. Watch for my next post, when I get down to the nitty-gritty: The Education.
As someone who spends more than 8 hours a day in front of a computer, it was a treat to get some face-to-face time with patients and healthcare providers. Breakfast, lunch and dinner afforded us plenty of time for chit chat, and I met a wonderful group of people.
There was Patty McG, a spunky teacher who was diagnosed with celiac disease late in life. She was so full of energy, so inquisitive at sessions and so hilarious at mealtime – a thrill to be around.
Then there were Andrea and Alexandra, a mother-daughter duo who flew in from Ohio for an appointment at Columbia’s Celiac Disease Center, then stuck around a few extra days for the patient conference. Alex is a senior in high school and was preparing for a 2-week trip to Spain. Kristin and I immediately offered some travel resources to help her stay gluten-free while abroad. They were thrilled to hear about the new Gluten-Free in College section on our website. We’re sure Allie will be a well prepared gluten-free student come move-in day.
Next, I met Jonas Ludvigsson, MD, PhD, a renowned celiac disease researcher from Sweden who is doing research at the Mayo Clinic on a Fulbright Scholarship. I’ve posted a number of his studies on our Research News feed, so it was an honor to spend some one-on-one time with him. Plus, he’s a hoot. (He also wrote a guest post for NFCA back in November.)
Finally, there was Barbara Halpern, a long-time champion of NFCA. Barbara is a practicing dietitian in not one, not two, but three states. She even does nutrition counseling via Skype, so she’s never far out of reach. She leads a local celiac support group, and she’s done wonders to promote our Primary Care CME to physicians.
What’s a celiac disease conference without delicious gluten-free food? Each day, we enjoyed a lavish spread at each meal, including a seemingly endless supply of gluten-free rolls from Free Bread Inc. These rolls were a huge hit with gluten-free and gluten eaters alike. They were warm and hard on the outside, moist and doughy on the inside. Flavors included the Jalaa!, with cheddar cheese, buttermilk, and jalapeno, and our favorite, the MOXY, with gluten-free oats and seeds, molasses and agave nectar. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to eat two or three rolls in one sitting. (Attendees came from far and wide, so they were stocking up while they could.)
To balance out all that bread, we filled our plates with dishes like salmon, roasted vegetables, chicken with a Dijon sauce, and cold gluten-free pasta salad from the buffet. I have never seen salmon filets as big or beautiful as they ones they served. They were so fresh and tasty, I barely used the sauce.
For dessert, there was gluten-free cheesecake – plain and chocolate – and fresh fruit. The cheesecakes were light and creamy, not like the dense cheesecakes I’ve had in the past. And who doesn’t like fruit?
Stay tuned for my follow-up post, including some key takeaways from the sessions.