Kim Diersen and April Runge were on solitary paths filled with doctors, tests and medicines, both trying to improve their child’s health.
And after years of anguish, Diersen and Runge each discovered that altering their child’s diet was the key to a happy, healthy child.
It wasn’t until they enrolled their children in preschool that the women’s paths crossed. Although their children had very different health issues, Diersen and Runge realized they shared the same journey of restricted diets.
From that shared experience, the women were spurred to create a children’s picture book with a purpose. They formed a company named Special Kids Enterprises LP, hired Minnesotan illustrator
Carrie Hartman and spent hours collaborating on their project.
The 32-page picture book, “Gordy and the Magic Diet,” focuses on a child who has negative physical and emotional reactions to certain foods. When Gordy eats those foods, the “monster” comes out, and he becomes angry, sad, confused, tired and sick.
Once Gordy goes on his magic diet and eliminates certain foods, he loses the negative behavior.
Diersen, who has a degree in elementary education with a Master’s degree in teaching and leadership, and Runge, who has a communications degree, co-authored the book in an effort to help other families cope with similar issues as well as understand the struggle a child faces to stay on a restrictive diet.
They also feel their book could be useful to medical professionals, teachers and social workers.
“We wanted to make sure the book covered anyone on a special diet,” Diersen says.
‘We met this little boy we had never met before’
Joshua Diersen was born with developmental issues, his mother says. He had difficulty swallowing food, suffered from uncontrollable colic and was upset by sensory stimuli, including riding in a car or stroller.
He was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and began receiving therapy. Still, things didn’t entirely improve.
“He still couldn’t connect to us and engage with the world,” Diersen says. “When you have a child that can’t cope in the world, you become desperate.”
Diersen’s desperation led her to search the Internet where she found information on gluten-free diets.
With the support of Joshua’s doctor and therapist, gluten, artificial colors and preservatives were eliminated from his diet. For the first time, at age 3, Joshua was able to make eye contact and respond when his name was called. The diet changes had worked.
“After being on the diet for two weeks, we saw a huge change,” Diersen says. “We met this little boy we never met before. It was the most joyful experience.”
Joshua, now 9, is a fourth grader at Indian Prairie Elementary in Crystal Lake. He continues to live successfully gluten-free.
Diersen says she wants her book to help families think about possible solutions for their own children.
“[They should think], if I see monster-like behaviors in my child, then look at the diet. What can I try for two weeks?”
‘The medication had made her a zombie’
Nevin Runge was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy when she was 10 months old, shortly after she suffered from her first seizure, which lasted seven minutes.
The seizures continued, and at age 2, she had a seizure that lasted more than an hour.
Nevin was air-lifted to Children’s Memorial Hospital — now Lurie Children’s Hospital — in Chicago and put on epilepsy medication, but the medication left her with tremors, mood swings and rashes.
By age 4, Nevin was experiencing 250 to 500 seizures a day. After medications failed time and again, a case-worker from the Epilepsy Foundation encouraged Runge to eliminate the medication and have her daughter try a medical diet called Ketogenic.
After just two days, her daughter’s fog was lifted, Runge says.
“I could see my daughter for the first time,” she says. “All the seizures and the medication had made her a zombie.”
The Ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate, high fat and no sugar diet. Every gram of food is measured and eaten at specific times.
After four months on her new diet, Nevin was seizure-free.
Runge says the diet changes the way the body works.
“Even though there’s a lot of fat in the diet, she doesn’t have high cholesterol,” Runge says of her daughter. “This is what her body needed. She’s never been healthier [than when she’s been] on this diet.”
Nevin, now 9, a fourth grader at South Elementary, has been on the Ketogenic diet for five years. Her doctors will remove her from the diet in August with the hope that she will remain seizure-free. Runge is proud to admit that her daughter just competed in her first 5K race.
Taming the Monster
Both Diersen and Runge have similar grocery shopping experiences. They know what works and they buy the same items. The women have learned to make accommodations at dinnertime.
“Sometimes the family eats something different, sometimes they eat the same as Joshua — it all depends,” Diersen says.
The difficulty both women say they face in having a child on a restrictive diet is the pressure put on their children at birthday parties and holidays, particularly Valentine’s Day, when their children are tempted with treats. They prepare for this by sending substitute snacks to school during such occasions.
Diersen and Runge explain that if their children go off their “magic diet” just once, the “monster” will come back.
“Gordy and the Magic Diet” is available at gordyandthemagicdiet.com, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble bookstores. A portion of the proceeds will benefit organizations that help children navigate restrictive diets.