The worst kind of disease is the one we don’t even realize we have, those cases when we falsely assume that real symptoms are just our bodies acting up. Mackenzie Hardin’s story proves, however, that we shouldn’t always take things for granted.
“I would vomit a lot and missed a lot of days at school,” says the 13-year-old teenager. “I just wanted to be like everyone else.” Since she was six, Mackenzie suffered from constant stomach pains and a burning sensation in her throat. Doctors thought it was just a case of acid reflux, a condition that causes the stomach acids to flow back into the esophagus, and prescribed the according treatment.
While she was on medication, Mackenzie’s health improved. But as soon as she stopped taking it, the symptoms became much worse. Because she couldn’t eat without vomiting, Mackenzie began to lose a lot of weight, which in turn affected her growth.
When she was finally taken to a specialized children’s hospital, the doctors there suspected something else to be the cause. They decided to do an endoscopy to confirm and they turned out to be right: what Mackenzie really had was celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the small bowel each time the patient eats anything with gluten, a common protein found in wheat, rye and barley. “I wasn’t depressed, but I was sad that I couldn’t eat donuts and that kind of thing anymore,” confesses Mackenzie.
Her mom Jillian started buying her only gluten-free products and Mackenzie began her new diet. The improvement was almost instant: she could eat without stomach pains, and her weight and growth rate normalized.
Jillian also began to follow her daughter’s diet. She even found gluten-free flour to make Mackenzie’s favorite cookies. When her daughter told her they tasted exactly like the regular ones, Jillian couldn’t hold back the tears. It may not seem like much to others, but after seeing all that her daughter went through, it meant a lot.
“I don’t feel different because my friends are with me. And there are worse things in life… Having celiac disease is not such a big deal,” says the optimistic teenager. In the video below you can watch interviews with Mackenzie and her parents.
Mackenzie is now just another regular, healthy teenager and she couldn’t be happier. She was lucky to have been diagnosed relatively early on, but many people suffer their entire lives from the same symptoms without ever finding out the cause. Help spread Mackenzie’s story so that people who may be going through the same experience have a chance to learn from it.