CD SKILLS - "I have a positive outlook on life" - Maja from Zagreb (Croatia)


I was born in the 1970's in Zagreb, Croatia, and one of my first memories, among playing and having fun, were serious digestive issues and complications. My family got rid of all the carpets from our apartment, as my vomiting was frequent and often unpredictable. I also remember that I attended numerous different medical examinations. I was told by my parents that doctors were taking my blood to regularly check it, since I was an anaemic little child. Although many different examinations were made, doctors concluded that I was physically healthy but under a lot of stress because my parents were in the middle of divorce and that their separation was the main issue of my digestive problems.

During my childhood and adolescence, I often felt nauseous, tired and frequent vomiting was still part of my life. I adored playing sports and was good at karate, but when training for more serious competitions began, I couldn’t keep the pace - mornings after intense training sessions I couldn’t get out of bed, but the good thing is that I didn't quit karate until late college years.

When I started working, at least once every few weeks I was so sick and vomiting that I couldn't come to work. I still remember my first boss telling me “Hey, you should seriously check your health”. I was 27 years old at that time…

As I was getting older, I began to have ataxia and a lot of pain in my joints, the big ones and the small ones also. I remember my ankles used to hurt so much and I had awful pain in my finger joints, so I couldn't walk. I had a Waaler-Rose test which turned out negative. Besides frequent vomiting, constant nausea and joint pain my blood work indicated smaller than normal MCV and low thrombocytes. When I complained to my doctor, I got the explanation that I am genetically different from others and that I should visit a mental therapist to help me with my hypochondria. The good thing was that I was exercising regularly and I tried to stay physically active. At that time other areas of my life were more than fine; I had a good job and I met a wonderful guy who will later on become my loved husband.

In the end of 2011, just as I accepted that I will live forever with vomiting and pain, a solution for my trouble arose, and it was in the form of a food intolerance test. A homeopathic doctor, because of the candida overgrowth in my body, prescribed a very strict diet which I had to follow for 6 months: I had to cut out gluten, sugar, dairy, beans and fruits. And after a few weeks of that diet a miracle happened - for the first time of my life I really felt good. I had no pain, no vomiting, no nausea, and had lots of energy and my strength in sports (especially in windsurfing) became obvious. My skin cleared up; my bloating disappeared… I was happy, optimistic and enjoyed being in my body.

Soon after stopping with the diet and starting to eat normally, all of my symptoms came back, worse than ever. During 3 weeks I lost 7 kilos, I looked pale and felt so weak I couldn't go to work or even walk my dog. I was tested for parasites and bacterial infections and everything was fine, except me feeling awful.

The good thing was I was curious about what was happening to me and I started reading about coeliac disease and reading the symptoms. It was 2012 in Croatia and coeliac disease in adults was something unfamiliar to most of the family doctors and general population. Encouraged with a period of feeling good I was persistent and went to take a screening test for coeliac disease in Croatian and after that I was examined at the University Hospital Centre Zagreb and finally got a diagnosis and confirmation that vomiting and nausea weren’t only in my head and that this is a real, but manageable disease.

Following a strict gluten free diet since 2012 resulted in improving my overall health, my pain and nausea went away and life became much better without regular vomiting. I feel much stronger and I have a positive outlook on life. A year or two after starting a gluten free diet I was able to drink yogurt again :), and nowadays I can even drink a glass of milk without getting diarrhea.

Living with celiac disease and following a strict gluten free diet isn’t easy as it may seem at a first glance. The way we eat affects our family and friends and dictates many activities - almost every social event includes food and we have to plan our every meal. Some people in our lives are caring and understanding and others see us as picky and demanding. One doctor told me “You can’t have celiac disease, you look fit and strong”, “Yes, I do, but I am really following a gluten free diet, it wasn’t always like that”, I replied.

There is a lot of mis-information about celiac disease out there and there is a huge amount of space for raising awareness and helping children and adults and their families to get the diagnosis on time and to encourage them to stick to the gluten free diet. I consider myself lucky because after being diagnosed at the age of 38 and removing gluten from my diet I regained good overall health. The major problem is weight gain and I was diagnosed with a serious vitamin D deficit which I managed to cure with proper supplementation.

To help others, I joined CeliVita - Living with coeliac disease as a volunteer. I hope that unrecognized celiacs can benefit from my experience and I can spread awareness about getting diagnosed and living on a strict gluten free diet.

Programme co-funded by European Union funds (ERDF, IPA, ENI)