Sunday, October 11, 2015

Worth the Trip: Nationwide Children's Annual Celiac Conference

Back when we were newly diagnosed, it was recommended to us (I don't remember from where) that we attend the annual Celiac Conference in Columbus at Nationwide Children's Hospital. I signed us up, and an awful bug spread through our school - including both my boys - and I ended up not being able to go that first year we had registered.

Forward to Cincinnati and the first several years we lived here - the conference is always the last week of October - as are soccer tournaments. Three years I said no, we are staying home and playing soccer should be the priority - I want fun to trump going to some "boring" conference, and I'd rather my kid enjoy his sport than focus on his disease. And how much would I really learn?

We finally made it to our first Celiac Conference in 2013 (our soccer team wasn't so hot that year, lol!). I take back any thoughts of "boring" and not fun --- and that is why I am writing this post. And each year I learn so many new things. If you haven't attended, I highly, highly recommend you check it out if you are able.

When arriving at the Conference, there is a nice area of vendors set up. SO. MANY. SAMPLES. Columbus has a lot of options that we just don't have here in Cincinnati yet. My favorite samples (and purchases) are often from Soodles Bake Shop and from the Raisin Rack grocery store. This area is open at the breaks and lunch-time as well, so if you don't get to the conference early, it isn't a big deal.

Nationwide Children's in Columbus actually has a "Celiac Disease Center" - whereas Cincinnati Children's does not, and I am incredibly jealous. The two Conferences we attended so far have been MC'ed by Mary Sharrett, their Celiac Center's Dietician (how nice would that be to have as a resource??). We have heard several doctors and nutritionists speak (love hearing Nationwide's Dr. Ivor Hill - smart man with a good sense of humor). Some information is basic, the mechanics of Celiac, the gluten free diet, etc. - but other times they share new, ground-breaking studies that are being done. They also take a lot of questions from the audience, which always turns out to be a very interesting portion of the day too.

Their slogan, 
"When your child needs a hospital, everything matters," 
always gets my teary-eyed

The Conference isn't just about research, though - there is so much practical application. Another favorite speaker of ours is Steve Plogsted, pharmacist at Nationwide, and he is THE leading expert on gluten in medications. (His website is here: The confusion with this topic is astounding - both from the pharmaceutical companies themselves and for those of us trying to figure out if something is gluten free. Plogsted takes away that confusion.

Lunch - I underestimated how nice it is to show up to a cafeteria and have a delicious meal where EVERYTHING is gluten free. And I did not have to cook it. I love love love having that time to eat with my husband, discuss all of the things we learned that morning, and then there is often enough time that we can take a walk outside.

Speaking of outside - the past two years there were fresh doughnuts being made in a machine just outside the Conference room doors. GLUTEN FREE. The smell alone - wow. I am not a huge doughnut fan, as they always made me feel sick prior to my gluten-free days... but no stomach ache with these and what an incredibly rare treat!

Fresh gluten free donuts?!? For real!?!

What makes this Conference really excellent in my opinion, though, is their children's program. It is NOT babysitting. The kids actually get their own conference. Students from OSU pursuing degrees in nutrition (I believe? I cannot exactly remember) run the kid's program, which is in a separate area of the building. Many of the speakers give a presentation to the children (my son has dreams of being a Celiac doctor one day - how great is it to have Celiac doctors talk directly to them?). Each year they also do a session on how to be a detective and read labels. At lunch, they have a make-their-own lunch (I think it was pizza one year). They do a scavenger hunt and other fun activities as well. My son - who likes to fly under radar at school and not draw attention to himself - was so unbelievably excited after each Conference. He enjoyed the learning, the eating, and I think most of all, being with other kids that "get it." One year they wrote a book of their Celiac story, and it was amazingly touching to read. He also loves getting attention and having fun from college kids - and the freedom of being away from mom and dad at an event like this!

This year's Conference is on Saturday, October 31st - Halloween - so we will not be going. I do not know if there are still seats available (especially for the children --- their seats fill up FAST) - but I highly recommend checking it out at some point if you or a loved one has Celiac! Hope to be there again next year and I will be sure to advertise on my Facebook page when the registration form arrives in the mail.

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