Banana Baby: A former patient of Dr. Sidney Haas tells her storyTricia Thompson
In Honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Gluten Free Watchdog is writing a series of articles (the goal is one per day during the month of May) related to the gluten-free diet–currently the ONLY treatment for celiac disease.
Long before gluten was identified as the culprit in celiac disease, a doctor by the name of Sidney Haas in New York City was treating pediatric patients using what came to be known as the “banana diet.” A former patient of Dr. Haas contacted me in 2008. She very generously and graciously wrote down her recollections of the banana diet (these recollections were originally posted on glutenfreedietitian.com).
A former patient of Dr. Sidney Haas tells her story
I was born with celiac 77 years ago. I was a year old and my brother was 3 when it was discovered we both had celiac. I was told many years later that my brother had been close to death. We lived in New York City where Dr. Haas had his practice. He had done research with another doctor and found that bananas were a tolerated “starch” for celiac’s.
My mother had to prepare a formula with bananas that took hours to complete. My parents would have to buy “trees” of bananas because that is the way they were sold. Because my parents had to buy so many bananas for my brother and me, one of the neighbors in the apartment building where we lived in New York City, took my parents to court because they thought that my parents were poisoning us.
As a child, (as best as I can remember) my diet consisted of Acidophilus milk, buttermilk, Pot Cheese (not the kind that is sold in the stores today, which is gooey and awful), bananas, apples, dates, other fruits I can’t remember, most vegetables, beef, and butterfish (which my mother liked). A wonderful memory for me is when my mother baked bananas, apples, and dates with lots of butter.
Every time a new food was added to our diet, Dr. Haas had us take castor oil to clean out our stomach. This was terrible for me because my father had to chase me around the house. When he finally did catch me, he had to wrap a blanket around me, squeeze my nose so my mouth would open, pour the castor oil down my throat, and then jam an orange in my mouth to suck. I know that the castor oil must have been only a teaspoon, but I can still imagine the whole bottle being poured down my throat. For years and years after having oranges jammed into my mouth, I was not able to eat a fresh orange. Now I can’t eat them because they have too much acid for me.
Every time my brother and I went to birthday parties, my mother made sure to fix food for us that would have been similar to what the other children ate. I don’t know how she did it, but I never felt deprived. My brother on the other hand, was more daring than me. He always tried to sneak something that he wasn’t’ allowed to eat like candy.
When I was around 10 years old, I went “Trick or Treating” and was very “bad” because I ate lots of candy corn. That night, I became very sick and remember being delirious. The sugar was something that my stomach was not ready to handle. While children my age knew about bubble gum and other popular candy, I had no idea what they were talking about.
By the time I was 12 years old, I was able to eat “everything”. I was brought up to believe that sugars and starches were what a celiac was not able to digest. I was also told that I was “cured.”
Whenever I went to Dr. Haas’s office which was at 47 West 86th Street, his office was filled with children of all ages and many I remember looked like they came from the concentration camps during WW II with their sunken eyes and swollen stomachs. Growing up I’d hear stories from my parents about how Dr. Haas would tell them about children he’d been asked to see after doctors would operate on them. The parents would be told that their children had only a few hours to live.
Dr. Haas would feed them the formula of bananas and the children would survive. My parents had two sets of friends with one child each who had been operated on with all kinds of stomach problems. These 2 children never got better but remained terribly sick. My parents insisted that they see Dr. Haas, which they finally did, and these 2 children, later in years, were beautiful healthy children.
As a young mother, I thought I was so smart being aware of celiac and the symptoms because of all my growing up years being surrounded by Dr. Haas’s patients when going to his office. Wrong!!!!!!
At 6 months old, my daughter started to lose weight and projected her formula across the room. My parents were so upset with me that they very firmly advised me to take my daughter to Dr. Haas. I finally went. After he fluoroscoped her he told me she had rickets. He put her on Casec milk which I made her formula with using only pasteurized milk with the cream on top and banana flakes which came in a can. He prescribed tremendous doses of Atropine, because of pains she had in her stomach which I had to give her for a long time.
She was able to eat everything by the time she was 3 years old. She has told me that since she had to eat so many bananas as a child, she hated them and couldn’t stand the sight of them for a very long time. BUT now she loves them.
Note: I ate many more bananas in my growing up years than my 4 children ever did and I never lost the taste for a delicious banana! I use to eat it with peanut butter but now with soy butter — plain too.
When my younger daughter was born, I wasn’t such a “know-it-all” mother, and the moment I noticed her discomfort consistently, I took her to Dr. Haas. She was also able to eat everything by the age of 3 years old and we were told that she was “cured.” My oldest son (first child) had some stomach problems but I was the “know-it-all” mother and fed him what I thought was a celiac diet of pot cheese, eggs, bananas, tuna fish, chicken, mostly ground beef, most vegetables and fruit. He was okay with what I gave him. When my youngest son was born, Dr. Haas had passed away. When my family doctor told me that my son had “colic” I immediately tried to find a doctor who knew how to treat a child with celiac. I did, but mostly fed my son the same way I remembered Dr. Haas telling me to feed my daughters.
One more memory of Dr. Haas was when I took my children to have them examined, his son, Dr. Merrill Haas, (we called him Dr. Merrill) examined them first and then Dr. Haas would re-examine them. I am talking about a doctor who was 89, 90, 91 even 92. I would not go to anybody else.
I have always had problems with my stomach. Around the age of 30-something, I found that I could not eat lettuce or even fresh vegetables or fruits. Everything had to be cooked. When I reached 50, I became lactose intolerant. I used to eat lots of cottage cheese and also many different kinds of cheeses. I had terrible pains and diarrhea 20 minutes after drinking milk or eating cheese.
From then until now, I’ve had periods of sudden upset stomachs (I thought for no reason) and it would take over a month and a half to get better. No gastroenterologist ever said that I had celiac even though I constantly asked them. I have had quite a few endoscopies because I have acid reflux but all have come back negative for celiac, or so I have been told each time. This past year I have had terrible pains of gas in my chest and through my body and pressure in my rectum. After going through test after test at the cardiologist to test my heart and finding my heart very healthy, I discussed with my gastroenterologist about going on a celiac diet, which he agreed that I should do so.
I only knew it to be a diet free of sugars and starches. I certainly have been shocked to find out, since Dr. Haas was honored world wide by physicians, that the word “starches” has been replaced by the word “gluten.” For the past 3 months now, being on a gluten-free diet has certainly helped with all the terrible gas pains. I can now, suddenly, eat a moderate amount of fresh fruit and vegetables. Corn on the cob is on my menu again and so is lettuce.
There is so much gluten-free food available in stores today; many support groups throughout the country; lots of available information on the internet; books written to help those learn about their gluten-free diets; and various cookbooks. All this information was not available for my mother or for me. The list of foods available today for those on a gluten-free diet is just plain enormous.
Thank goodness for all the research that was done for finally discovering that gluten was the “culprit”. If Dr. Haas was alive today, I would again give him a big hug for saving my brother, my children, and my life.
Tomorrow’s article: “The Gluten-Free Diet is Born: Thank You Dr. Dicke!”
I am also a “banana baby”. I was born in 1947 & at 6 months old (when babies get wheat cereal) I became very sick. For 3 months, I was constantly sick & nearly died. A new doc came to town & took one look at my emaciated body & had only seen 1 case in med school. Diet of bananas & rice for 18 months. They thought I would outgrow it. I was sick in my childhood, but came back with a vengeance at age 30 after pregnancy & diagnosed properly. I love bananas still.
Thanks so much for sharing, Peggy!
I was also fed a formula made from dehydrated banana flakes that my Mom said was very time consuming to make. She said they had to slit the nipples on the bottles in order for me to eat. This was in 1950. I wish she could remember more about it, but she’s 92. She and many others in my family have stomach problems. I’m almost 70 and up until about 10 years ago I could eat anything but now I struggle to find things that don’t upset my stomach. I tested negative for celiac.
Thank you for sharing. Do you happen to live near Boston? If you are interested in meeting with another physician, I suggest Dr.Fasano at Mass General (he sees adults too) https://www.massgeneral.org/doctors/19184/alessio-fasano.
Oh Peggy and any one else who was a banana baby, I would love to get in contact with you and compare notes. I was a banana baby back in the 1940s as well and I have quite a story, as I am sure you do. I’d love to hear your full story. I did send a note to Tricia and she led me to your comment. Is there some way we could talk or email?
Thank you both for sharing. Your experiences are valuable.
I’m wondering about the fact that banana babies were converted to a regular wheat-containing diet after several years. Did you regularly eat wheat after being told you were “cured”? Did you have symptoms?
There’s growing awareness that celiac has so many symptoms beyond the typical gastrointestinal ones, and that severity varies with individuals and is not necessarily determined by the stage of life, and your experiences shed light on that.
Thanks for sharing!
Very interesting. I never heard of banana diet, but have a similar personal experience. Like the author’s child, I was a sickly infant, losing weight and turned green and vomited after feeding. This was in the early 1950’s. No one in my family had any known GI problems. It is not clear if I did OK for the first few months of my life and this just began when I was a few months old, or if I was like this immediately after birth. I do know that when I was several months old, I was so sick that my mother escalated my care and took me to a very respected senior pediatrician at some distance from our home. Using clinical judgement only, this senior physician said there was something wrong with my liver, and that I should be fed soy milk and nothing else. Soy milk was not readily available in stores then, and this required my mother to buy the beans, cook them ( with the pronounced smell permeating the house), and prepare the milk. She did this, and I began to stop vomiting and finally gained weight. After many months, rice cereal was added to the milk. I still did fine. Gradually other foods were added, and although I was small and skinny (unlike my sister), I did grow. From time to time, we visited this doctor throughout my childhood. When I had one of the infectious diseases that all children at that time got, I had a “recurrence” of my GI problems, and had to have a “soft” diet ( chicken soup, toast, cottage cheese) until the recurrence subsided and then I returned to a normal diet. I was like this my entire childhood. Even when I was “well” during my childhood, it was not easy for me to eat, and the same eminent physician suggested I eat in a quiet area by myself without a lot of commotion. I passed my childhood this way. Once adolescence started, these problems seemed to be resolved, and I never saw the pediatrician again. At age 50, I self-diagnosed celiac disease, was tested….and yes, I was right. Looking back, I realize the soy milk diet saved my life and allowed what was probably celiac related hepatitis to clear. Its not the banana diet, but I thought I would share. Interesting too, that at that time we children with known digestive disorders were regarded as “cured” once we passed through childhood.
Thank you so very much for sharing your story, Sue. Goodness, what you went through as a child. I am usually full of words, but the stories shared by you and others make words seem inadequate. Hugs to you.
i too was a banana baby. Dr Sidney Haas, (with bobbie pin in his white hair), and his son Merril saved my life. It might have been 1952-3
They treated me for free as my family was very poor.
I had celiac, and had been near death several times. Mainstream doctors scoffed at the Celiac diet. I was completely cured
Hi Roger, Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share your experience with Dr.Haas. I’m assuming by completely cured that you mean by diet and that you are still following a gluten-free diet.
I’m another patient of Dr. Hass.I was 2 when I was extremely ill. It was difficult for my mom to get bananas during WWll, and we were on rations. I was cured by age 6, I am guessing. I did have lots of respiratory issues which finally disappeared. I have had a good run with just a few problems. At 15, I became ill after a group trip to Mexico and had severe cramps and diarrhea on and off for about 5 years. I was the only person out of a group of about 30 who got sick. I developed allergies to lobster and shrimp in my 50’s . Now, at 78, I have acid reflux and nickel allergies. I think I will have a complete checkup after reading that I never really was cured. I sure was able to eat very well with foods from around the world for many years. I am very grateful to Dr. Haas!
Thank you so very much for sharing your story. If at all possible, it might be best to make an appointment at one of major celiac disease centers.
Wow this article really resonated with me. I found it from the other article about the impact of the banana cure. I was diagnosed with celiac disease by the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in 1957. I was almost one year old and had been very ill since I was weaned. I had projectile vomiting and diarrhea. My mother said I looked like a child of famine with stick limbs and a swollen stomach. I was suffering from malnutrition and near death when I was admitted to the hospital. I went home eventually and was put on the “banana diet”. My mother said the main part of my diet was bananas. I have always wondered about that and now understand the history of this treatment. She told me she had to travel across the city by bus to the hospital to pick up a special cereal for me. I was constantly starving according to her and one day I ate a crust that had dropped on the floor from a sibling. I didn’t have any symptoms so she took me to the doctor who pronounced me “cured” and that I could now eat anything! I had so many health problems as a child, teen and adult. Severe rashes, constant stomach aches, constipation, cystic acne, several miscarriages, numerous colds…the list goes on. I had mentioned to doctors that I had had celiac disease as a child but not one discussed the implications of this. In my mid 30s I started reading up about celiac disease…my mother had always talked about her experience of being a mother of a baby with celiac etc etc. I was shocked to read that it was now considered a life long disease so I began to eliminate all gluten from my diet. This took me a while to get used to but eventually I came to realize that eating gluten caused me a lot of physical problems. My parent split up when I was 3 and I have often wondered if the strain of dealing with my disease as a young child with two other children was the last straw for my poor mother who was mislead about the cause and treatment. I would say the belief that bananas cured celiac and that children outgrew the disease had very serious implications for families and is so unfortunate.
Thank you so very much for sharing your story, Joanne. Hugs to you.