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Volunteer Recruits for Cooking Sprees


NFCA is delighted to honor Ellen Wilcox as the August Awareness Advocate of the Month for being an inspiring woman dedicated to her family, her job and raising celiac disease awareness. In the midst of her demanding job as the Director of Public Relations for the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists, Ellen has managed to do wonderful things with NFCA! Ellen was first attracted to NFCA earlier this year when she saw an email from her local support group about the New York City Gluten-Free Cooking Spree. After reading that NFCA was looking for people to get involved in the event, Ellen immediately contacted Vanessa Maltin, director of outreach & programming, offering to help. “NFCA is such an impressive organization!  As soon as I learned about all the incredible things NFCA was doing, I knew I had to be a part of it!”

The timing was perfect, she says. She had just completed her master’s degree in management, in the public relations track, at the University of Maryland University College. “I had planned to start volunteering for celiac related activities as soon as I was done.”

As the Director of Public Relations for the ASHP, Ellen hoped that her expertise might be of help. ASHP is the largest national professional organization of pharmacists, who practice in hospitals, ambulatory care clinics, long-term care facilities and home care operations. ASHP has a long history of medication-error prevention efforts and believes that the mission of pharmacists is to help people make the best use of medicines. Unfortunately, patients with celiac disease and the pharmacists who care for them face much difficulty today due to the lack of information available about the status of gluten in pharmaceutical products. Soon after speaking to Vanessa, Ellen approached her organization and explained the importance of what NFCA was doing in regards to ASHP’s concerns about patient safety and health care quality.

Since then, Ellen has worked very diligently to involve ASHP members in NFCA activities and events. This includes having pharmacists participate in the Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees to become educated about celiac disease and encouraging them to become advocates within their pharmacies.

In NYC, Ellen recruited Dr. Robert Mangione, the dean of the pharmacy school at St. John’s University and an ASHP member to join a cooking team for the NYC Cooking Spree. To her surprise, his team’s Tortilla Crusted Free-Range Chicken was the winning dish of the night! For the Washington DC event, she contacted local media to cover the event and recruited healthcare professionals to be on the teams. “I was especially thrilled that the chef from my favorite local restaurant also participated.”  

Ellen’s new lease of life came from being diagnosed with celiac disease at age 42. Amazingly, she was diagnosed by the same gastroenterologist she had seen for years, soon after the NIH Consensus Development Conference on Celiac Disease “The change in my life has been dramatic. My chronic gastritis disappeared overnight! It was incredible.” Slowly her skin began to glow, her energy levels increased and the damage to her gallbladder improved. “Because my gallbladder wasn't working properly, I couldn't even eat one French fry without getting horribly ill.  Now french fries are back in my life, although that's probably not a good thing!”

Ellen’s day at the office is very hectic. “There are often sudden shifting priorities depending on what may be happening in the nation or the world.”

In addition to working and volunteering, Ellen is raising two teenage daughters in Rockville, Maryland with her husband. “After work, I’m juggling just like any other working mom.  But it certainly got a lot easier when my older daughter got her driver’s license. Before that, it seemed I spent all my free time driving somebody somewhere!” Not surprisingly, Ellen enjoys many hobbies such as painting, gardening, and knitting. Volunteering is a unique and very rewarding part of her life after being diagnosed with celiac disease. “I still find it so stunning that all the seemingly unconnected health problems I had had my whole life were all caused by this disease and I never knew it!”

Ellen gratefully thanks the celiac community for being so friendly and supportive. “It makes it so much easier for people who are just learning about a gluten-free diet.” In the end, Ellen Wilcox is a true role model for women who strive to have it all: career, family, philanthropy, and fun!