Board of Directors
The Celiac Kids Connections Board of Directors is comprised of staff from Boston Children's Hospital and volunteers from the group. Their focus is to guide the group and serve the needs of our members. Board meetings are open to all and are held the second Tuesday of the month from September thru June. If you are interested in attending a meeting or would like additional information please email us.
Meet our Board:
Dr. Dascha Weir, Medical Director
Alan M. Leichtner, MD, MSHPEd
Janis Arnold, LICSW
Vanessa Weisbrod, Program Director
Francie Kelley, Executive Director
Janet Ciciarelli, Board Chair
Rich Granfield, Vice-Board Chair
Deborah Ferguson, Treasurer
Abby Bradley, Teen Board Member
Jordan Min, Teen Board Member
Mark J. Sciaraffa, CPhT
Ilyssa Tarr, Teen Board Member
Dascha C. Weir first became interested in celiac disease during her medical training and is now a board certified pediatric gastroenterologist with expertise in Celiac Disease in children. She is the associate director of the Celiac Disease Program at Boston Children's Hospital and serves as the medical advisor of Celiac Kids Connection.
Originally a Boston area native, she attended Dartmouth College and graduated with a BA in History in 1995. She subsequently graduated from Case Western School of Medicine in 2000. She returned to Boston and completed her internship and residency in Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. After finishing her pediatric gastroenterology fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital, she joined the Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition there and is involved both in clinical care and celiac related clinical research. She is also on the executive committee of the Harvard Medical School Celiac Research Program. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and settling into a good book.
Alan M. Leichtner, MD, MSHPEd, is the founder of Celiac Kids Connection and the Director of the Celiac Disease Program at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). He also serves as Chief Education Officer and Director of the Department of Medical Education at BCH. He is the founder of the BCH Academy for Teaching and Educational Innovation and Scholarship. Dr. Leichtner is a Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS). He received his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and his MD from HMS. He completed his Pediatric Residency and his Fellowship in Gastroenterology at Boston Children’s Hospital. He also has a Master’s of Science in Health Professions Education from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Professions. As the former Associate Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at BCH, Dr. Leichtner expanded the clinical practice to include multiple centers and subspecialty programs as well as satellite offices. Dr. Leichtner is the author of dozens of scholarly articles and has been recognized locally and nationally for his clinical and education leadership.
Janis received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Chicago. She worked in the field of juvenile justice within the juvenile courts, before transitioning to social work within the healthcare field. She previously worked with pediatric diabetes, cardiac and kidney transplantation programs as a clinical social worker at Children’s Memorial Hospital (affiliate of Northwestern University) in Chicago. In 2004, Janis began working as a clinical social worker and mental health clinician in the Celiac Disease Program, as well as in as in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center to provide psychosocial support to families at Boston Children's Hospital,
She frequently speaks to parent, sibling and family groups, provides both regional and national presentations and has published on topics including the mental health considerations and impact of chronic illness on families, state and federal equity programs for effective advocacy for patients with chronic illness, school advocacy and educational equity, transitioning from pediatric to adult medical care, and impact of chronic illness on rights and medical coverage. Her research focus includes transitioning from pediatric to adult centered care with chronic illnesses.
Vanessa Weisbrod is the Director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Celiac Disease Program. In this role, she will work to build a robust community engagement and education program that strengthens the ties between the BCH clinical team and the Celiac Kids Connection support group, as well as engage local and national partners. Vanessa comes to BCH after 12 years as the Director of the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC. In her previous role, she led the effort to create national recommendations for managing children with celiac disease in learning environments and research looking at cross contact with gluten in shared kitchens and schools. She developed innovative approaches to education that methodically allowed families to successfully adapt to the gluten-free diet including producing a series of cooking and nutrition videos, building an interactive digital app for celiac education, hosting a bi-monthly podcast and managing live and web-based educational forums. Vanessa was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004 and her son was diagnosed in 2016 when he was three years old. She has authored four gluten-free cookbooks and whole heartedly loves gluten-free food. Vanessa sees herself as a passionate advocate for families living with celiac disease and is excited to be a part of the Boston gluten-free community.
Francie first learned about celiac disease in December, 1998 when her then 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed. She immediately became active in the celiac community and with two other Moms started a support group in Austin, TX.
Francie and her family moved to the Boston area in 2013 and in 2014 she began volunteering with Celiac Kids Connection. She served on the board and eventually served as the board chair. She became Executive Director in December, 2015.
Francie studied business at St. Anselm College and received an MBA from Babson College. She spent 15 years working in human resource management and benefits administration. She took time out of the workforce after the birth of her daughter. At that time she got involved in volunteer work. She was active in PTA and led the celiac group in central Texas for many years.
In her free time, Francie likes to travel, ride horses and cook. Prior to her daughter’s celiac diagnosis she was an expert at finding ways to get out of cooking. But once she had to learn gluten-free cooking and baking, she discovered that she really enjoyed it.
Janet has multiple family members with celiac disease including her husband, daughters, father, nephew, and a cousin. Janet became involved with Celiac Kids Connection because she feels that it is a great resource for families in the Boston area and beyond - Janet lives in Herndon, VA with her family. Janet enjoys introducing newly diagnosed families to CKC and providing them with support during a time that can be very confusing and stressful as they are transitioning to the gluten free lifestyle.
Janet has an BA in Anthropology from the University of Virginia and an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Kansas. After working in Federal grants management for over 10 years, she took a step back from work to spend time with her young daughters. She currently works in HR and recruiting.
In her free time Janet enjoys hiking, traveling, and baking delicious gluten free treats for her family to eat.
Rich has worked in the biopharmaceutical industry for over 20 years. Today he works at Takeda, which continues to invest significantly in celiac disease research. Rich was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 40, with seemingly no outward symptoms. He also has a son with celiac disease.
Originally from Western Massachusetts, Rich obtained an engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and spend 10 years consulting in multiple manufacturing industries before starting at Genzyme. From that time, the ability to contribute to satisfying unmet medical needs in underserved patient populations has driven his professional aspirations.
Rich lives in Sudbury, MA with his wife, two high school sons, and labradoodle (of course).
Deborah Ferguson became a member of the Celiac Kids Connection (formerly Celiac Support Group) in 2014, when she first learned that her young son had celiac disease. In 2016, she became a board member.
Deborah attended the University of Manitoba and graduated with a BSc in Genetics. She subsequently earned a PhD in Experimental Medicine from McGill University and completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Currently, Deborah works in the Boston area as a medical writer and scientific consultant.
In her free time, Deborah enjoys reading, gardening, trying out new recipes, and watching her two boys play hockey.
Abby Baird is a sophomore in college who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 8th grade. She is studying applied health science with hopes to be a Physician Assistant in the emergency room. She is on the NCAA D3 track and field team at Wheaton College.
She further helps with the social media committee for Celiac Kids Connection. She joined the group in 2020 and was a teen board member for two years. She enjoys knowing that she is making a difference in other people’s lives, especially when it comes to children with Celiac Disease.
Maureen is a native Floridian turned Virginian by way of the University of Virginia where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. After UVA, Maureen attended Syracuse University and earned her Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. For several years, Maureen worked in hospitals helping adults and children with speech, swallowing, and feeding challenges and then started a multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice specializing in autism and feeding disorders. After numerous diagnoses of celiac disease in her immediate family, Maureen identified the limitations of awareness of celiac disease in the travel industry and made the transition from Speech Pathologist to Celiac Travel Consultant. Maureen now shares her passion for helping families in a different way, by ensuring safe, care-free adventures for all.
Maureen started Celiac Cruise in 2018 with a dream to be able to provide families impacted by celiac disease the opportunity to sail the open seas in a safe, gluten-free environment. Celiac Cruise hosts various sailings around the world and has partnerships with Royal Caribbean International and AmaWaterways. Maureen resides in Leesburg, VA with her husband and three children.
Abby Bradley is a sophomore in high school who was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was 5 years old. She is interested in chemistry, digital art, creative writing, and horseback riding.
Abby is a Teen Advisory Board member, Celiac Kids Connection teen mentor, and writes “New to Celiac” articles for the newsletter. She joined the board in 2022 and hopes to help kids with celiac disease connect with others who also have celiac disease.
Michael Frolichstein is thrilled to be a member of the Celiac Kids Connection board. He struggled since his teens with multiple health issues, finally receiving a celiac diagnosis at age 40. Michael’s background as an editor, director, writer and producer in television and film was instrumental in making The Celiac Project documentary to help raise awareness and increase rates of diagnosis.
His journey to unravel the mystery of his lifetime of health challenges was only the beginning of this road. Michael’s daughter, Jessica, who was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 3, and his asymptomatic nephew, Sam, who was diagnosed at age 15, solidified Michael’s mission to continue helping educate people of all ages about the realities of celiac disease.
Soon after the documentary was finished, Michael met Cam Weiner and they launched a weekly podcast in January of 2016 to discuss and highlight issues and topics important to the celiac and gluten free community. To date, they have created over 350 podcasts, covering ongoing topics of interest to the gluten free community as well as many special guests. In his free time, Michael enjoys spending as much fun time with his family as possible, is an avid sports fan, enjoys pickle ball, bowling, and of course, pizza Friday’s!
Caroline Johnson is a junior in high school and was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was 13 years old. She loves running, theatre, science and cooking. She is a Celiac Kids Connection teen mentor and writes the teen recipe column and seasonal articles for the newsletter. She joined the board in 2019 and enjoys the comradery among the group’s teen members and being able to support the younger members by sharing what she has learned since being diagnosed.
Isha Mehrotra is a sophomore at MIT majoring in chemistry and biology and joined the Board in 2019. She was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at age four. The difficulties and lifestyle changes the disease presented inspired her to better understand the disease and advocate for fellow diseased individuals. At MIT, Isha is a coxswain for the women’s rowing team, volunteers at a hospital, is an executive member of the Biology Undergrad Student Association, tutors a biology class, is a Peer Mentor in her dormitory, and a Board member for the Harvard-MIT Cooperative Society.
Isha has long been involved with research, and currently conducts translational research at Massachusetts General Hospital on the role of the microbiome in Celiac Disease in pediatric patients. She hopes that this research may someday help the with the diagnosis of Celiac Disease.
Isha loves that being on the Board gives her the opportunity to connect with and help patients more directly than through her research, and especially wants to support teenagers in managing their disease and diet during college. Isha hopes to attend medical school after college in the hopes of one day becoming a pediatric gastroenterologist or hematologist.
In her free time, she loves to read classics and listen to classic rock music, travel, and go back home to California to visit her parents and twin brother.
Jordan Min is a sophomore in high school and was diagnosed with celiac disease when he was 11 years old. He has a deep interest in the biology and process of celiac disease and hopes to make contributions in the future to the scientific community researching it.
In his high school he is a member of the class council and plays in the school wind ensemble. He also enjoys cooking and discovering new gluten-free foods and recipes.
He joined the board in 2022 and loves that he is able to connect with the celiac disease community and help other kids with it.
Zachary Rosenthal is a current undergraduate student at Boston University and originally comes from New Jersey. Zach was first diagnosed with celiac disease when he was 14 years old, and he is now channeling his own personal journey in pursuit of a career in medicine one day. In addition to his work at Celiac Kids Connection, he also currently works as an Undergraduate Researcher at Mass General Hospital.
Zach's dedication to making a difference extends beyond his academic and professional pursuits. His personal journey with celiac disease has inspired him to get involved with the Celiac Kids Connection, where he leverages his own experiences to support other children and families, helping them find a sense of belonging and understanding in the face of similar challenges.
Zach loves to try new recipes and taste test gluten free foods. He is also a big hockey fan, and in his free time, loves to play hockey and basketball with his friends. He has two dogs, Charlotte and Ziggy, who love to go on walks and play fetch.
Mark first became aware of celiac disease when his youngest daughter was diagnosed in 2015, at the age of 2 years old. In subsequent years, Marks older daughter and wife have also been diagnosed with celiac disease.
Mark is a Pharmacy Technician Supervisor at Massachusetts General Hospital where he’s worked for nearly twenty years. He is also a licensed real estate broker and a graduate of Bunker Hill College.
In his spare time he enjoys finding gluten free restaurants and making celiac safe food for his family. He has a new found passion for cooking and sharing best practices regarding cross contact.
Mark started an Instagram account, CeliacDad to promote and spread awareness about gluten free products and restaurants.
Ilyssa Tarr is a sophomore in high school and was diagnosed with celiac when she was 4 years old. She loves to dance, and is a member of her high school’s varsity dance team. She’s attended Camp Pembroke for the past 6 summers, and will volunteer at Camp Arrowhead this summer. She is a Celiac Kids Connection teen mentor for two young girls, and helps with events for the entire program. She became a teen board member in 2022, and can’t wait to make a difference for teenagers with celiac disease.
Laura was diagnosed with celiac in 2013. Along with Laura, one of her 4 children has also been diagnosed with celiac disease. As a member of the Children’s Hospital community, Laura joined the board of the Celiac Kids Connection in order to help other young families adapt their lives to a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle.
Laura graduated from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH in 2002 with a degree in pre-med and accounting. In 2006 she completed a degree in Physician Assistant studies at Touro College and began working at Children’s hospital in the Orthopedic department. She continues to work on a per-diem basis and lives in Sudbury with her husband, Zack, and four young children. In her spare time, Laura love to garden, cook, play tennis and tries hard to keep up with her busy creative kids!