Libbie Pilarski: No grain, no pain

Libbie Pilarski: No grain, no pain

Shylah Dozeman

Her stomach growled, but not from hunger. “Not again,” she thought. She ran to the bathroom, even though her food had barely digested. 

   Gluten, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, and pollinated fruits and vegetables. Finding meals without one of these allergens is extremely difficult, yet Libbie Pilarski must, every single day. 

   The allergies started during her last year of elementary school. Constant stomach aches. Constant pain. Finding a solution seemed impossible. The doctors thought her problem was just constipation, but Libbie’s mother Erin Pilarski (Mama P)knew there had to be more. “It started affecting things that she loved to do and it was hard to watch,” Mama P said. 

A recent allergy test reveals sensitivity to pollen.

    After her family took Libbie to an allergist, they could finally determine the cause of her suffering. At eleven years old, the doctors determined that she had sensitivities to dairy, gluten, and nuts. After the diagnosis, the Pilarski family believed all of their problems would be solved, but the adjustment would prove to be equally stressful. 

   “When [the doctors] said I was good to eat some of it, just not a lot of it, it was hard to limit myself. I would see something and want it, but then I’d see something else and want that too. So if my mom wasn’t next to me I’d sneak it,” Libbie said. 

   As Libbie continued to adjust to the sensitivities, steering away from dairy and nuts became easier, but she still had an issue with gluten. “I had families taking her out and they would take her to a pasta place that didn’t have gluten-free food, so they would make sure she ate ‘just a little bit,’ instead of the whole plate,” Mama P said. 

    “I was constantly in and out of the bathroom,” Libbie said. “We would be on the road and I’d have a slice of pizza and we’d have to stop so I could go to the bathroom, then I would be up really late because it would keep me up.”

   On January 25, 2018, the issue had clearly not been resolved. Libbie had been preparing for the MSVMA State Honors Choir performance at the DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the day had finally come. Except the day wasn’t filled with smiles and excitement; it began with a trip to the emergency room. 

   After getting picked up by Libbie’s father Jim Pilarski (Papa P), Libbie sat in the car with tears in her eyes. As they made their way to the doctor’s office, they continued to sit in silence on the day that was supposed to be her “shining moment.”

   The day continued as if nothing was wrong, while hundreds of people gathered to watch the performance in Grand Rapids. Libbie tried to make the best of the situation, but she was still in pain. She fooled everyone with her fake smile, even though she felt like the world was against her. 

   Two years after the original diagnosis, the doctors decided she wasn’t just sensitive to gluten, but completely allergic. However, the next step was even harder to overcome.

   “For the first ten years of my life I was constantly eating gluten, so trying to adjust was very hard for me, especially because my whole family ate it. I had to watch my whole family eat a meal and then get an alternative that I didn’t like yet because I was still used to the ‘good’ food,” Libbie said. 

   Every time she went to a store or restaurant, she had to be reassured that the food was safe for her to eat. Instead of going out to eat once every week, the Pilarksi family only ventured out once a month because Libbie was afraid she would accidentally eat something she wasn’t supposed to. 

   As time went on, she realized she wouldn’t be able to conquer her allergies alone. The adjustment was a learning experience for everyone in her family, but harder for some more than others. 

   With a family of six, Papa P always loved to make extravagant dinners. But cooking became extremely difficult when he had to make meals completely gluten-free. “He would make these huge meals and he would be so proud of it,” Libbie said. “But he’d bring out what he made it with and one of the ingredients would have gluten in it.”

   However, Mama P had quite the opposite experience, “It became easier for me because I don’t like junk food and the gluten-free lifestyle is a little more clean than what you would generally find in the cupboard, but it became more complicated if it wasn’t just her and me.” 

   Because of Libbie’s allergies, her eldest sister Kaitlyn Pilarski got tested because she was struggling with the same symptoms. After a few tests, the doctors realized that Kaitlyn had allergies as well, and her suffering was quickly relieved. 

   The interactions she had with her extended family members differed wildly. While one grandmother bought new gluten-free cookbooks and made sure Libbie could eat everything she made, the other would make her a salad with croutons. 

   With her large family, her allergies could be easily forgotten, but they would always try. “As a mom, you want to be able to make dinners for your kids to eat. Thanksgiving was the big one, how do you make Thanksgiving dinner with allergies? I did it. It was hard, but I did it,” Mama P said. 

   Any time somebody would go out of their way to help Libbie, she felt loved and appreciated. She had a few people make gluten-free baked goods, and not only bring over the baked goods, but the ingredients they were made with, so Libbie could make her own. 

   She also had one of her friends go through the day eating only foods that were safe for her to eat. “She could barely even make it through, but it was very meaningful because nobody had done that before for me,” Libbie said. 

   One of her most memorable moments was her cousin’s wedding. “She decided to cater food, but made sure to pay the extra money to get me my own gluten-free food,” Libbie said. “It served right to my table instead of having to wait in line, which was really nice because it was at the beginning of my allergy and I was still learning.”

   After a long five years of confusion, she feels like she has finally adjusted to her allergies. She has her go-to fast-food restaurants, primarily Chick-Fil-A because of their grilled chicken nuggets, and she knows which questions to ask when dining. She remembers to make sure chips are made of corn instead of flour and has most unsafe foods memorized so she doesn’t have to check the back anymore. 

   Although gluten is her biggest challenge, figuring out how to also adjust to her other sensitivities was a major accomplishment. She was most recently diagnosed with a sensitivity to pollen in fruits and vegetables, with the biggest struggle during highly pollinated times. Having to worry about gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, and pollinated fruits and vegetables takes a toll on her every day, but she always gets through. 

   “As a parent, you just want your kid to be healthy and pain free,” Mama P said. “For everything that we had to go through to find out what was wrong, I’m just glad that we have it figured out.”