Like most babies, when Jack Beach turned one, his parents, Emily and David, switched him to whole milk and started adding fruits and veggies to his diet. Unlike most babies, however, Jack reacted badly and began having 7-10 icky diapers per day. With Jack being the couple’s fourth child, Emily knew right away that something wasn’t right.
At first, Jack’s pediatrician suspected that he had a milk allergy, but those tests came back negative. Then, the family took Jack to see a pediatric gastroenterologist. Since Jack’s nine-year-old brother, Howard, had salmonella as a baby, the Beach family returned to Dr. J. Brannon Alberty for Jack’s care. Dr. Alberty suspected that Jack had fructose malabsorption or sucrose deficiency. The easiest way to test this was to give Jack straight fructose and observe him.
“Fructose wasn’t easy to find, but I got it and put it in his bottles,” Emily says. “Almost immediately, after two or three bottles, he began having diarrhea.” At only 14 months old, Dr. Alberty diagnosed Jack with fructose malabsorption.
“I guess the worst part about it is that my husband and I just assumed it would just be a temporary thing,” Emily says. However, fructose malabsorption is a lifelong condition. If Jack’s diet isn’t well managed, there’s the potential for him to develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s disease. “So, that’s really why we have to watch what he eats,” Emily says.
Jack’s diet is limited in that any sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, most fruits and sweeter vegetables, cause him to have diarrhea because his body cannot process the fructose. However, Emily has been able to find foods to help keep her active, healthy three-year-old growing and developing properly.
“Jack is just going to have to learn to be a meat and potatoes guy,” Emily explains. Finding foods that Jack likes and can tolerate has been trial and error, but the Beaches have enlisted the help of a dietitian and friends. Emily is also always looking for more food ideas, and she is also looking to meet other families who are dealing with similar dietary restrictions.
When Jack started at Christ Covenant Preschool, Emily was worried about how his diet could be managed in a classroom setting. His teacher, Fran Harbour, made things easy by adjusting the class snack list to fit Jack’s needs.
When the class does have special treats, like decorating cookies as part of a Christmas celebration, Jack “handles it like a champ,” Emily says. He knows what he can and cannot eat, and he is good about refusing things that will make him feel bad.
The family, which also includes 12-year-old Mary Ellis and six-year-old Anna, looks at the limitations on Jack’s diet as a way for them to also eat healthier. “If we’d all eat like Jack eats, we’d all be so much healthier,” Emily explains. “It really is not a bad thing.”
Through it all, Emily and David maintain a positive attitude and inspiring outlook. “There are so many other things that really could be life threatening for our child, and we are blessed that he doesn’t have any sort of life-threatening condition. It can be managed,” Emily says. “We just feel fortunate that we have been blessed with four kids, and overall, they are in good health.” ■