Imagine not being able to eat bread, french fries, pizza, pasta, cakes, cookies and other foods containing gluten because you have celiac disease. Now imagine being teased or excluded because you can't eat those foods.
How the disease was depicted on last week's episode of the Disney Channel show "Jessie" has outraged an Ohio Township family. Amy Raslevich and her husband, Jeff Kelly, have two children, Laura, 11, and Sam, 8, who both were diagnosed with the autoimmune disease almost 18 months ago.
Ms. Raslevich said she was infuriated by the TV episode once she saw her children's reactions. "There were tears in my daughter's eyes, and my son's fist was clenched," she said.
She created a petition on www.change.org, and is asking the Disney Channel to stop airing the "Jessie" episode titled "Quitting Cold Koala," and to stop using gluten-intolerance as an excuse to bully children with any disease, disorder or disability. By Sunday night the petition had 2,139 signatures.
The show, now in its third season, is about a Texan teen who moves to New York City to follow her dreams and ends up as a nanny for a high-profile couple's four children. In the episode, a new young boy, whom Jessie agreed to care for while his parents were away, stated that he requires a gluten-free diet, and the other characters laughed and threw pancakes (which contain gluten) at him.
"For my kids, this is real," Ms. Raslevich wrote in the petition. "They have had friends make fun of their food, been disinvited to parties because of their diet. They have been made to sit alone, have had waitstaff roll their eyes and snidely comment about their requests to make their food safe for them to eat. They have watched others, sometimes strangers and sometimes not, act as if their requests are somehow just a trend, just a request of an overanxious parent or a spoiled and coddled child."
Celiac disease, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, affects one out of 133 people in the United States.
Ingesting gluten leads to the destruction of the small intestine, and the body eventually cannot absorb vital nutrients. Sufferers can experience diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and fatigue, among other symptoms.
The only treatment is the lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet, although food companies and restaurants are starting to provide a wide assortment of such foods.
"The first year was literally like a death," Ms. Raslevich said about her children's experiences after the diagnosis. "That's the best way for me to describe it. They went through all of the stages of grief. There's nothing else that they can do, and they aren't going to outgrow it. It was tough, and it still is."
Ms. Raslevich said she posted her petition at 9 p.m. Thursday, and in fewer than 24 hours it had more than 1,000 signatures.
"I think what I'm most surprised by is the comments that I've read," she said. "A lot of people are in the same boat. There's a whole community out there. That's been impressive. A few blogs picked it up. It's encouraging.
"I'm hoping more and more people hear about it, and it's significant enough for a company like Disney to care."
She plans to email the petition to Disney Channel executive producers. Rachel Fox, a spokeswoman for the show, couldn't be reached for comment.
"We were very fortunate to find [the diagnosis] when we did, because down the line the problems could have been very bad for both of them," Ms. Raslevich added. "It is remarkable how much it can change a person's life."
Katie Foglia: email@example.com or 412-263-4903.