Mike Irwin – Gluten Free Runner and Foodie

Mike Irwin – Just before Celiac Disease diagnosis  – 6’4″ 125 lbs.

I am constantly amazed at the stories I hear about people.  I am fascinated to hear how their health and strive to find a diagnosis starts at one point and sometimes takes forever to figure out.  I have met so many people in person and online and each story is inspiring to me.  I wanted to share this story with you so that you too will find something in it to motivate you to take care of your health. I find it so interesting to hear the threads of similarity in all of our stories that tie us together and to think something could make us very sick – Gluten. 

I recently met Mike Irwin online and began to chat with him on Skype where he told me his story.  Mike was diagnosed with Celiac Disease about a year ago and lives in Fort Nelson, British Columbia Canada.  I asked him how he has been feeling and he said, “I have more better days than bad.  The beast is in the cave!” The beast he is referring to is the result of digesting Gluten.

In 2008, after a Spring vacation to Cuba, Mike began to have stomach issues and was very rapidly losing weight.   He went to the doctor for some blood tests, one of which was for Celiac.  He couldn’t eat because he was too sick to his stomach (vomiting).   The blood test came back inconclusive for Celiac.  In Canada you need a referral to go to a specialist and it takes time to get on the schedule to get in to see the doctor.  The closest to him is 10 hours away in Edmonton.  As time went on without a clue as to what was making him so sick he continued to lose weight.  Mike is 6 feet 4 inches at the worst and lowest weight was 125 lbs! He was so thin you could see the bones in his cheeks sticking out, his ribs and bones all over his skeleton. By this time it was spring of 2009, he had an Endoscopy and the results were inconclusive because they were done by a general practitioner not by a specialist.  As you can imagine that was upsetting because all he wanted was a diagnosis to begin to do what he needed to do to feel better.  He did more homework and took his medical file to another doctor at the University of Calgary, School of Gastrointestinal Medicine.  This doctor suggested another Endoscopy.  Once it was over the doctor stayed to wake him up to tell him that it was conclusive that he had Celiac.  Even though the doctor could tell during the procedure that he had flattened villi they had to wait for the pathology to confirm.  Both turned out postive for Celiac Disease.

Now looking back Mike says he can trace Celiac Disease back to his childhood.  He was diagnosed with ADD/ADHD when he was very young.  He was always very thin, anorexic.  He has had a multitude of symptoms including bad teeth, gas, GERD, bile in his mouth at night, major respiratory problems, joint pain, back pain, chronic anemia, malnutrition (swollen belly from not eating).  I asked him about his family and if anyone else had Celiac Disease or what their health was like?  He said that his dad, 80 yrs old,  has had Type 1 Diabetes since 1936, but had a negative blood tests for Celiac.  A second cousin on his dad’s side is positive with Celiac.  On his mom’s side of the family, 2 cousins are positive with Celiac.

Mike decided to face the diagnosis of Celiac disease head on and started to learn everything he possibly could.  Fortunately for him, he loves to cook, so he began to learn about all the new flours, products cookbooks and blogs.  I asked him what his favorite meal is today and he said, “Brown rice pasta with olive oil, fresh herbs from his garden and broccoli.”  He buys everything organic, if he can’t grow it and does not eat out except when he travels.  He makes his own crackers from a recipe he found and uses Namaste flour blend for just about everything.  He says that bread is still the hardest thing to replace but does what he can to make his own. He also likes Mac and Cheese that he makes on his own, not from a box, with the brown rice pasta, Earth Balance butter and grated European cheese.  One of the most important things that he does daily is consume olive oil, which helps him with the inflammation and digestion.  He also takes daily supplements.

I asked him about resources in Canada and he said that the Canadian Celiac site is very helpful to find local support groups and publications.  He also says that the Calgary Chapter of the Celiac Association has been very helpful.  He also mentioned that the book Dangerous Grains co-authored by Ron Hoggan M.A. and James Braly, M.D.  was an important find for him so that he could learn more about grains and mycotoxins.

In addition his doctor suggested that he start to exercise. Mike began slowly building his strength, gaining weight and is now running in half marathons this year.  He has completed one in May, one in June and he has another half marathon on October 2 in Calgary at the Harvest Festival.  I was so inspired and amazed but had to ask, why half marathons?  Isn’t that a bit much? He said it is something to just cross off his bucket list!  Mike said, “When he was literally near death’s door, he knew that if he made it through this he had to help others and to get them moving!”

Bravo Mike Irwin! I will be cheering for you from WA state on October 2nd! 

As we concluded our chat, after 2.5 hours on Skype I asked him if there was anyone he wanted to thank that helped him through this ordeal.

Mike Irwin says, ” I couldn’t of made it through last year, without the help of a lot of people …
My family – Mom and Dad , Rosemarie and Doug, Brother and Sister-in-law, Jim and Zoe
All my friends from Vernon BC and Ft. St. John, especially – Jesse, Eric ,Jordan and Troy
Kim at the health food store, who helped me from the start. And the others in Ft. Nelson as well
My family doctor, Dr Mostert, My GI – Dr Melanie Stapleton from Calgary, Alberta
My Respirologists Drs Charlene Fell and Kerri Johansen also from Calgary, Alberta
Ron Hoggan and Jax Peters Lowell, your books I’ve read from cover to cover more than once.
David Rocco, La Dolce Vita tought me to love food again!
And finally Lance Armstrong, I read “it’s not about the bike” again during the depth of my illness.”

Mike crossing the finish line!

I look forward to hearing about this next chapter in Mike’s life and Good Luck in Calgary!

If you would like to share your story I would be happy to chat with you.  Please contact me at glutenfreefoodie@gmail.com



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