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Harlingen Medical Center & Texas State Technical College Host Run/Walk & Education Expo To Bring Awareness to Celiac Disease

Dr. Jason Phillips, Gastroenterologist

Harlingen – Have you ever heard of the gluten free diet? Would you like to learn more about the gluten free diet and how it is essential for people with celiac disease?

Please join us for the Harlingen Medical Center and Texas State Technical College Celiac Disease Awareness 5k Run – 1M Walk & Education Expo, scheduled for Saturday, May 20, 2017, at the TSTC Campus in Harlingen from 7 a.m. to noon.

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that is triggered by eating gluten. Gluten is the sticky protein found in flour. It is also found in products that come from wheat, barley or grain. When a celiac patient eats food that contains gluten, it triggers a reaction in the body and the immune system attacks the small intestine. This causes symptoms of pain, bloating, chronic diarrhea, weight loss and foggy thinking. Over time, this damage to the small intestine can lead to anemia (low blood count), vitamin deficiencies, osteoporosis (thin, brittle bones), infertility, lactose intolerance, nerve damage, increased risk of several malignancies and early death.

Celiac disease is a serious disorder with severe long term complications. However, most people who have celiac disease are unaware that their symptoms are due to celiac disease. Celiac affects about 1 in 100 people worldwide. In the United States alone, 2.5 million Americans have celiac disease and are not diagnosed. In the Rio Grande Valley, there could be as many 13,000 people living with celiac disease and unaware.

“There is a huge unmet need for awareness for celiac disease in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Jason Phillips, MD who is a local gastroenterologist who treats patients with celiac disease. “As many as 13,000 people have celiac disease in the Valley and the vast majority are not aware that they have this treatable disorder. They simply put up with the symptoms or blame their symptoms on something else such as food poisoning. We wanted to create a Valley-wide event that brought attention and education to this relatively common but under-diagnosed disorder to help people get tested and started on treatment with the gluten free diet.”

Brandy Rivera, MS, RD, LD (dietician)

The mainstay of treatment is a strict gluten free diet. A gluten free diet avoids all foods that contain wheat flour or traces of flour. The gluten free diet is a very challenging diet to follow because it requires 100% commitment in order to relieve the symptoms of celiac disease. Unlike other diets, if you ‘cheat’ on a gluten free diet and have celiac disease, all of the celiac symptoms return for days to weeks. This creates a huge challenge for patients when they eat out or visit relatives because even the smallest amount of gluten can trigger a reaction. Many of these patients simply prepare all of their own meals at home, which can lead to social isolation.

“We also want this event to be a launching platform to create a Gluten Free support group for the Rio Grande Valley,” said Dr. Phillips. “We want to be able to reach out to restaurants and help educate them on how to prepare their food safely for a strict gluten free diet. The expo provides the Valley with an opportunity to learn about gluten free cooking and sample local vendors that already provide food for a gluten free diet. Ultimately, we want to help people feel better to improve their lives through education and advocacy.”

Chef Marcel

There will also be an Education Expo featuring focused lectures from Gastroenterology physicians who are specialists that diagnose and treat celiac disease. There will be talks about gluten free cooking from Brandy Rivera, MS, RD, LD (dietician) and Chef Marcel Fortuin (McAllen Culinary Academy) about the gluten free food. Local vendors will be present to educate the public on products and menus already available in select restaurants and grocery stores.

Entering the Harlingen Medical Center and Texas State Technical College Celiac Disease 5k Run – 1M Walk & Education Expo, as a participant, is as simple as completing the on-line registration form available at the award-winning and nationally recognized hospital’s website at

On the home-page, simply scroll down and you will see the icon for the event on the right-hand side. It will direct you to the registration webpage. You may also register by requesting a hardcopy registration form at [email protected]. The cost of participation is as follows:

  • Children (under 17) $15.00
  • Adults $25.00
  • TSTC Students $10.00
  • HMC & TSTC Employees $10.00

There is no charge to only attend the expo. Anyone who would like to support the Harlingen Medical Center and Texas State Technical College Celiac Disease 5k Run – 1M Walk & Education Expo by way of a sponsorship can do so through several level options. They range from a platinum level to a gold, silver and supporting sponsor.

Here is a timeline of the events scheduled for Saturday, May 20th:

7:00 a.m.       On-site Registration and Free Medical Screenings
8:00 a.m.       5k Run, non-competitive
8:10 a.m.        1M Walk, non-competitive
9:00 a.m. – 12 p.m.      Education Expo

The event will also feature activities for children and families!

For more information regarding the Harlingen Medical Center and Texas State Technical College Celiac Disease Awareness 5k Run – 1M Walk & Education Expo, please contact the Marketing Department at Harlingen Medical Center at (956) 365-1848 or at [email protected].

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