Dylan Dreyer Reveals Son Calvin, 6, Was Diagnosed with Celiac Disease After Stomach Ulcer (Exclusive)
Today co-anchor Dylan Dreyer announced on air Wednesday that the oldest of her three kids, 6-year-old Calvin, was recently diagnosed with celiac disease
Dylan Dreyer's family has recently undergone some major changes for the sake of her son's health.
On Wednesday, the co-host of Today 's third hour and NBC News meteorologist, 41, revealed that son Calvin Bradley, 6, was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. Speaking with PEOPLE about the road to answers, the mom of three — who also shares sons Russell "Rusty" James, 19 months, and Oliver George, 2½, with husband Brian Fichera — recalls her little one "constantly complaining of stomach pain every day."
"I'd ask him, 'What does it feel like?' and he'd say sharp pain, and this was going on for months and months," she tells PEOPLE.
Thinking it might be a food allergy or sensitivity, Dreyee peeled back on dairy and hope for the best, but a number of times, the pain led the concerned parents to take Calvin to the emergency room.
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Related: Dylan Dreyer Shares Adorable Video of Son Rusty, 14 Months, Learning How to Walk: Watch
"We ended up taking him to the emergency room overnight just because we thought maybe it's his appendix or something, so they did an ultrasound of his appendix, which looked fine. The stomach pain continued for months and months, and he also often complained about a headache or pain in his ears," she shares.
"We took him to the ENT to check his ears, which were good. They thought he had molars coming in, but then he also had a weird rash on his head. If you moved his hair away to look at it, his hair would fall out in chunks," she reveals. "All these things were happening that we just had no idea how or if they were all connected."
"They had to do an endoscopy, which they had to put him under for. It's just awful watching your child going under anesthesia. It's uncomfortable. You don't like seeing it. But they did the endoscopy and it turned out he has a stomach ulcer which explains his pain."
Doctors thought the ulcer was caused by bacteria and prescribed a strong antibiotic, but further results confirmed that Calvin has celiac disease, which is when gluten poses a severe risk to the small intestine, causing diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting. The condition doesn't run in either Dreyer or Fichera's families.
"We were very concerned because we thought it was something much more serious because of how some of the results came back. You start Googling and thinking the worst, so when we found out it was celiac, I could say, 'Okay that's an inconvenience, it's a life change, but we can manage that.' We were very grateful."
The diagnosis led to a dietary overhaul for the family of five, all of who are now eating gluten-free.
"Cross-contamination is such a thing, so if I boil water in a pot that I used to make pasta in, I can't use that pot to cook for Calvin because gluten can get stuck in the grooves of the pot, or scratches. So I had to literally throw away half the stuff in my kitchen — wooden spoons, Teflon pans, any plastic cooking utensils or cutting boards, they had to be tossed."
Dreyer admits the process was "daunting" at first. "Whatever I didn't throw out, I had to hand wash it in super hot water, then ran it in the dishwasher, then wiped it down with antibacterial wipes, then ran it through the dishwasher again. It took a while to get all the gluten out, and now we just don't allow it in the house anymore."
Controlling Calvin's environment outside of the home is challenging, with Dreyer acknowledging, "Some people you'll tell you have celiac disease or you can't eat gluten, and you have to brace yourself for the eye roll. They don't take it seriously."
"But when I realized how much damage this actually caused him — I mean, for him to have a stomach ulcer, for him for his hair to be falling out, for like him to have just a persistent earache and a headache — I don't want him coming in contact with it at all, and everybody in my world needs to be aware of that."
Dreyer has already found great support in Calvin's teacher, who keeps gluten-free snacks for him in the classroom so he doesn't miss out on celebrations where others bring in treats for the class.
"She didn't want him to feel left out, like he's not getting a special treat. I was so appreciative of her for that."
When traveling for the first time since Calvin's diagnosis, Dreyer "literally brought camping supplies — pots, pans, dishes, all that stuff."
"We went to visit family out in Oregon and it was like a big family reunion where we went to the house. Everybody else could have their pancake breakfast, and I can still cook Calvin's eggs in a separate pan."
Luckily, Calvin has been open to exploring all the new things he's getting to try.
"Calvin really loves food, and he's willing to try stuff, so my new hobby is making bread and pizza dough and all this gluten-free stuff. I just try all these different recipes I find online and Calvin tries it and will tell me if he really likes it," she shares.
"My pizza dough and bread he really liked. He said, 'Mom this is like the best I've ever had even before,' so it's sweet to see his reactions as I experiment and try new things. There are some things he certainly misses though, like Jersey Mike's!"
Dreyer hopes to start a conversation by sharing her family's story and connect with other parents of kids with celiac disease, admitting that after Calvin's diagnosis, "I sort of put my head down and focused on the tasks at hand, like cleaning the kitchen."
"I wanted to cry and my husband's like 'Can I help?' and no, I had to do it because I need to do it myself to make sure it's all done right, very mother hen," she recalls. "But now that we've got the house gluten-free and figured out which restaurants to go to and what snacks are safe, it's not as daunting anymore."
"It's a life change and my goal is to make sure Calvin sees it as no big deal. When we interviewed him, it was like, 'Calvin do you feel different in school or does anything feel unusual to you?'"
"And when he said no, part of me got upset that he wasn't elaborating on what he was feeling, And I realized, that's my goal — that he doesn't feel different, to make him feel like this is nothing. Because as long as I'm in charge, I make his lunch and I make his snacks and he really is eating delicious things and doesn't know any different."
Calvin's also learning how to speak up for himself, with Dreyer noting, "He knows what he can't have. I explained to him what gluten does to his body and how that's what was making him sick."
"So he knows not to have anything from anyone else without asking first what's in it first. Basically, he just turns down food from anyone that offers it to him. He knows to only eat what I give him to eat. I still have so much control over it because right now, he's not going to sleepovers or anything,"
"He also has felt so bad for so long that he doesn't want to eat it because he knows how it made him feel so that also makes it easier for him to make the right choices," she adds.
Now that she's in a state of maintenance, Dreyer recalls some advice she got early in this process.
"Somebody did tell me in the beginning, 'The first couple weeks are going to be so strange and different. It's going to feel like you're not going to find a new normal but you do.' And once you do, it's pretty simple. It's 2023. I happen to live in New York City."
"So there are so many options, there are so many delicious things, there are so many people you can follow on Instagram to get good ideas for recipes, and it's certainly daunting at first, but you find your new normal pretty quickly."
Calvin is already seeing the difference less than two months after going gluten-free.
"I'm happy to report that since we took gluten out of Calvin's diet, his hair's not falling out anymore. He has no rashes. He's his ear doesn't hurt. He has no headache, and his stomach doesn't hurt," the relieved mom shares.
"It's to the point where Calvin even, I ask him every day, 'Calvin how does your belly feel?' He now says to me, 'Mom, it's fine. Nothing hurts. It's not an issue anymore,'" she laughs. "He feels so great, which is all I want as a mom."
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