Defenseman Alex Vlasic on the ice, handling the puck

Blackhawks defensemen speaks out about his scary diagnosis at the age of 13

Published February 4, 2024 at 5:40 PM
Alex Vlasic has been one of the best young defensemen that the team has come to rely upon during the 2023-2024 season.

However, he has had trouble eating bread since he was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 13.


Before his diagnosis, he loved bread so much that his parents had to hide it from him. Unfortunately, his love of pizza caused some problems when he ordered Domino's before a game day, and it tore him up.

They ran tests, but couldn't figure out the issue despite Vlasic's upset stomach. He would also eat pumpkin cream cheese cheesecake, which made his stomach worse and required hospital visits to figure out what was causing the excruciating pain.

«One night, I remember we ordered Domino's pizza,» Vlasic said. «I had a game the next day and, on the way to the game, my stomach was just killing me. [It continued] for two days straight. I went to the hospital. They ran some tests and did an MRI but couldn't really figure out what it was.»

Vlasic and his mom Tara didn't think much of it at first, so Tara gave him some Gas-X medicine «I still remember it so distinctly, those little chalk tablets,» he said and he played the game anyway.

A few days later, at his sister Emma's game, the saga continued.

«One of the moms brought these pumpkin cream-cheese cupcakes and I buried like five of them,» he said, laughing. «I was making it worse, not knowing what it was.

«A week later, [the stomach pain] came on even more strong. I couldn't even move. It was bad. I was crying nonstop, couldn't get over it. We went to the hospital and had a bunch of things done and they finally figured it out which was nice, because then I didn't have to deal with the pain.»

As a result, he had to make a drastic diet change, removing anything with barley, wheat, or rye from his diet, along with anything containing gluten.

Despite the challenges, his first year in the Blackhawks system has been helpful, thanks to the team's Tony Ommen.

Ommen handles flights, logistics, hotels, and meals for the team on the road. He has accommodated Vlasic's dietary guidelines and has catered to him with gluten-free options every time.

In Rockford, where fewer meals are catered, Vlasic has had to prepare for himself on the road and before games and has suffered through mistakes made when something with gluten gets labeled gluten-free.

Vlasic is not the only one who suffers from celiac disease; Max Domi, Kaapo Kakko, and Ty Dellandrea also have the same affliction.

And occasionally, some gluten shows up where it's not supposed to be or something gets mislabeled as gluten-free and Vlasic has to endure a bad night.

«I've just got to ride it out,» he said. «That's what I've figured out is the best way to do it. By the time it gets into your system, you can't get it out. Just take some Advil.»

For the record, he isn't a big fan of gluten-free breads: «They always break apart. It's a mess unless you get it fresh.»

However, like Vlasic, they have learned to adjust their diets and manage their symptoms.

Despite these challenges, Vlasic will look to continue his impressive season with the Blackhawks, with a 32-game stretch coming up that includes their first matchup against the Minnesota Wild.
February 4   |   192 answers
Blackhawks defensemen speaks out about his scary diagnosis at the age of 13

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