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The story of the Bonnie Lynn Mechanic Celiac Disease Clinic
Selma and Morrie Mechanic happily raised their three children in southeastern Wisconsin. But tragedy struck as 20-year-old Bonnie Lynn was diagnosed with lymphoma and passed away shortly before her 21st birthday.
Bonnie Lynn’s parents decided they wanted to do something special to remember her and give back to other families. So they purchased land in Lisbon, Wis., that in the 1980s became the home of Bonnie Lynn Acres. “It was a place that allowed children with a serious illness to get away, spending time in nature. It was a way for my parents to help people through difficult times and make wonderful memories with their children,” Ellen (Mechanic) Schlossmann, Bonnie Lynn’s sister, recalls. Bonnie Lynn Acres closed in the mid-1990s, but the example set by her parents for nonprofit, volunteer work set a lasting impression on Ellen.
Ellen and her husband, Michael, had their son Benjamin in 1991. Not long after he was born, Benjamin developed severe stomach and intestinal problems and at three years old, he was diagnosed with celiac disease.
Ellen tried to find as much information as possible about celiac disease. Unfortunately, she learned that there wasn’t much information available at the time. After the Schlossmanns survived the first few “years from hell,” as Ellen called the period after Benjamin’s diagnosis, she and a local celiac disease support group focused their attention on education. They wanted to educate each other and the public as a whole on the disease and the importance of listing all ingredients on product labels. For the next several years, the group hosted a series of fundraisers and gluten-free dinners, each attracting 200 to 300 people, raising money and awareness about the disease.
Researchers and physicians learn more about celiac disease each day. If undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease can lead to lymphoma, which brings Ellen back to her sister Bonnie. "I think about it all the time," she says. “Did my sister have celiac disease that was never diagnosed? What are the chances that my son will develop other medical challenges? What role does family history play?”
To help answer their own questions — and provide support to countless other families — the Mechanic and Schlossmann families have generously contributed to Children’s Wisconsin and created the Bonnie Lynn Mechanic Celiac Disease Clinic, which is part of Gastroenterology. Selma Mechanic has named the clinic as the beneficiary of a very generous gift through her estate plan. The gift is in the form of an irrevocable charitable remainder trust that will one day provide substantial support to the clinic.
“Naming the clinic for Bonnie allows us to carry on my sister's name and my dad's dream, to do something positive for people and assist my son,” says Ellen.