I like to stay on top of the latest news that relates to all things celiac disease, I subscribe to Google Alerts and occasionally I will just search the news on my own to see what else I can find. This time I stumbled on something unexpected: somehow celiac disease crept into coverage of a murder story. As I read the articles, I began to wonder whether the media handled the celiac information appropriately.
Last Saturday I did my typical search of news, and one story that popped up was out of Virginia. A sad story about a man who allegedly killed his wife and her two children on February 12th. I wondered why this kind of story would come back in my search. It turns out the wife had celiac disease and brittle bones. I guess I didn’t think much of it until now when it turned up in my random celiac search again one week after the murders.
The story about the same crime was published on February 19th, using the same reference “wife had celiac disease and brittle bones”. So I launched a search and I found five different articles with references about this case; the wife, Elizabeth Dean, who couldn’t “eat wheat” or “had celiac disease”.
Here are some direct quotes from a few of the articles:
“Robertson, who lives two houses from where the killings took place, called Carrillo Dean a loving man who “went out of his way” for his wife. Because of Elizabeth Dean’s celiac disease, Dean would often make special meals for her that did not include wheat, Robertson said.” Richmond Times Dispatch February 14th, 2009
“She says they often exchanged cookies with each other, making sure to bake some gluten-free because Elizabeth Dean suffered from celiac disease.” –and later – “Neighbors say Elizabeth Dean, walked gingerly because of a disability from going years with celiac disease undiagnosed but her husband took care of her.” MyFOXDC (no date on website)
“The man they knew as ‘C.D.’ was ‘an all-around nice guy’ and a devoted caretaker of his wife, Elizabeth, who had a bone ailment and could not eat wheat products, said a neighbor, Sean Peterson. ‘He’d make her dinner every night . . . special dinners that don’t have wheat,’ said Peterson, 29. ‘When she had to go somewhere, he’d walk her out to her car so she wouldn’t fall. . . . He must have snapped.'” Washington Post February 14th, 2009
What is your initial reaction to this? I have a thought I would like to propose, which crossed my mind in the coverage of this small part of the story. But before I get into it, I will preface my comments by saying I am not trying to belittle what happened to this family and this community with these crimes, by only talking about celiac disease. What happened there was unnecessary, tragic and sad; it clearly is having a significant impact on the family and community. In this post I am just looking at how the media has handled the use of the wife’s celiac disease information.
So here are my thoughts:
First of all, if her celiac disease went undiagnosed so long that she can hardly walk, I am saddened for the state she was in and for a medical community that possibly took so long to recognize how bone trouble can be a symptom of celiac disease. The only reference linking the two was in the FOX report above, which I thought gave readers (and hopefully viewers since it was on television) the most context as to why the celiac disease may be an important factor to know in this story.
As a result, did the other media outlets do a disservice to celiac disease in their telling of the story? I realize the main coverage of this story isn’t about celiac disease. However, without an explanation like FOX did above, do the other media’s stories imply that celiac is the worst thing ever and it – combined with the brittle bones-would drive one to “snap”? I feel like this thought process is a storyline out of Boston Legal: man on trial for murder blames the hospital for the deaths claiming: doctors didn’t diagnose his wife soon enough with celiac disease, thus causing her other medical issues which caused him to “snap”. James Spader’s character gets him off of the murder charge with an elegant monologue about how doctors should get on the stick with diagnosing celiac disease.
Too much of a stretch? Maybe not for Hollywood. But in this case, any added context by the media about why celiac disease could have caused her apparently larger health troubles of the brittle bones are needed. That is, if the health troubles are what led to this very tragic event, which is what most of the media seems to imply here. Adding context about celiac not only provides information on how critical it is for early diagnosis, but also educates the greater public about the disease and may also show that celiac is not a disease that usually makes people “snap”.
Tags: celiac disease