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Donna Bell Is a Team Player


If you are searching for an example of a team player, look no further than Donna Bell! In fact, Donna is Team Celiac!

This month, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) is pleased to honor Donna Bell as the Awareness Advocate of the Month.  Donna has dedicated herself to raising awareness of celiac disease both in her activities as a volunteer for NFCA and as she makes contacts throughout each day.

We met Donna and Rick Bell at the first Gluten-Free Cooking Spree held in Philadelphia at Drexel University in 2006. Since then, Donna and her family have been part of the NFCA Team in a wholehearted way working on every major event in the Philadelphia Area, including manning a booth with her daughter Ashley at the recent American Dietetic Association conference.  The mother of four, Donna exudes energy as she manages her busy household, including a toddler, and adds active volunteerism to the roster.

In an unusual turn of events, Donna and her daughter Evey (the toddler) were diagnosed at the same time in February 2006.  As the Bells sought a treatment for Evey’s asthma, they were told to take her to a gastroenterologist. Within minutes of seeing Evey, Dr. Ritu Verma of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggested that she be tested for celiac disease. The results were positive and Evey was on her way to a healthy life on a gluten-free diet. When Donna explained her own “symptoms” to Dr. Verma, she learned about the genetic nature of celiac disease and was tested. The result was a mother-daughter diagnosis. Three months after Evey was diagnosed with celiac disease, the Bells learned that their little redhead has Type 1 diabetes.  

We know that celiac disease manifests itself in many ways. For Donna, it meant being dead tired all of the time. Because she was anemic, the doctor prescribed iron pills which, ironically, contained gluten making a bad situation worse.  Sadly, Donna’s undiagnosed celiac disease meant a stillbirth in 2000. After being diagnosed, Donna felt better in one short week.  She tells us that she does not remember ever feeling this good in her entire life!
Because her daughter also has Type 1 diabetes, Donna has become an active volunteer with the South Jersey chapter of JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). She launched a support group for parents of children with both celiac disease and Type 1 diabetes and hosts a monthly meeting for the exchange of ideas and coping techniques.

This year, Donna joined the JDRF Walk Committee and added her own special touch. Determined to bring awareness of celiac disease into the world of Type 1 diabetes, Donna organized Team Celiac to walk as a group on September 30th. Result: 250 walkers wearing Team Celiac T-shirts stepped out for the cause. Donna and her volunteers manned an NFCA information table handing out Do I Have Celiac brochures and other celiac information, along with gluten-free treats from Whole Foods Market-Marlton, Water to Go and Ina Garden. She also organized a Cut-A-Thon at Hair Cuttery with gluten-free pasta and pizza from Pasta Pomodoro for the participants. Go Team Celiac!

Donna and her husband Rick Bell have formed a true “Celiac Team”.  Rick and his firm, Planning Capital Management Corp. of Cherry Hill, NJ, sponsored the first printing of NFCA’s brochure Do I Have Celiac as the cornerstone of NFCA’s National Awareness Campaign.  Since Rick’s early days of sponsorship, NFCA has distributed more than 400,000 brochures across the US.  Where would we be without Rick’s bold gesture! To view the celiac interactive symptom checklist online, go to http://www.beyondceliac.org/What_is_Celiac_/Do_I_Have_Celiac_/278/.   

Like most of us, Donna hopes that researchers will find a cure for celiac disease. Short of that, she wants to improve the rate of diagnosis dramatically. This, in turn, will drive the introduction of more products and gluten-free living will join the mainstream of American life. Her dream is to make life easy for Evey, so easy that going to a restaurant will be as effortless for celiacs as for others. The Bells experience with Pasta Pomodoro in Voorhees, NJ is a perfect example. When Donna and Rick first met Chef Pasquale Masters, Pomodoro had a small sticker in the window advertising gluten-free pasta. They now have a complete gluten-free menu option and were the winners of the 2007 Philadelphia Gluten-Free Cooking Spree!

Donna tells us that she loves working with NFCA. And, we love having her as a teammate! A huge thank you goes out to Donna and her family for their loyal and enthusiastic support.  Go Team Celiac!