Life StoryOct/Nov 2008 Issue

Good News for Celiacs

For 38 years, Joel Daly was a household name in Chicago where he co-anchored the top-rated evening broadcast of ABC Channel 7 News. What viewers didn’t know was that the handsome, green-eyed newscaster on their television screens each evening was a celiac.

While it is estimated that more than 3 million Americans have celiac disease, diagnosis rates are low; currently only 3 percent of the celiac population in the United States has been diagnosed. This makes high-profile celiacs like Daly especially important for generating awareness of the condition. Daly participates in celiac fundraisers and is a positive example of how well life can be lived with the disease.   

Daly, 73, retired from the news desk in 2005, just two years after being inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame as a “living legend.” Retirement hasn’t slowed him down and Daly remains actively involved in the Chicagoland community. By anyone’s standard, he is a Renaissance man who juggles an array of careers, including trial lawyer, pilot, actor and country western singer. In addition, he serves on the board of directors of the Clinic for Elderly and Disabled and the board of governors for Chicago-Kent College of Law where he also chairs the Student Affairs Committee.

Daly’s introduction to celiac disease occurred after he went on a diving trip to Mexico in the mid-1980’s. He returned to the Chicago area with what he calls “the typical Mexican sickness” that wouldn’t go away. After being subjected to a number of medical tests, Daly was diagnosed with celiac disease and had to quickly adjust to a gluten-free diet. “Obviously your life changes considerably,” he says.

“Celiac disease is a genetically predisposed autoimmune disorder and it can be triggered by some traumatic event or illness. In my case, getting sick in Mexico set it off,” he says.

Daly recalls a visit with a nutritionist following his diagnosis. She asked what he drank. Scotch, he answered. She informed him he couldn’t drink Scotch because
it contained gluten.* He jokingly asked if they could compromise with a single malt.

“She said, ‘Mr. Daly, you’re not taking this seriously enough,’” he says.
“But I’ve got a very understanding wife who helped me through the process. The diet’s been very doable for me,” states Daly.

The disease didn’t cause complications with his job as a news anchor, except to determine where he ate during breaks. He regularly dined at nearby Old Timer’s Restaurant and Bar on Lake Street, where the staff knew about his special diet and accommodated his gluten-free needs.
For years, however, Daly didn’t disclose his illness to the public.

“I guess I felt I was different because I had to watch my diet so much more than everyone else,” he says. When Daly was initially diagnosed, few people had ever heard of the disease, much less the gluten-free diet. “Now, of course, we know celiac disease is very common.”

Daly continues to work for ABC 7 News as a legal analyst. In addition, this practicing attorney increasingly utilizes mediation rather than litigation as an effective way to resolve disputes.

Former television anchor Joel Daly is an attorney, a pilot, an actor and, as shown here, a country singer with The Sundowners.

“It’s always heart-warming to bring people together rather than dividing them,” he says. “So it’s been a very great career.”

*It has since been determined that distilled alcoholic beverages, such as wine and hard liquor, are gluten free. Beer, ale and lager are not gluten free unless otherwise labeled.

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