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Thornhill nutritionist named civic hero for ‘incredible impact’
Jan. 15, 2015
Nick Iwanyshyn
Thornhill resident Lisa Cantkier was officially crowned a hero Tuesday night.

She was presented with Vaughan’s Civic Hero Award for Ward 4 at Vaughan City Hall with politicians and proud family members and friends applauding.      

“It is inspiring to see how one person can have such an incredible impact on the greater community,” said Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua.

“I congratulate Lisa Cantkier for her efforts to educate people about celiac disease and the importance of good nutrition.”

The 39-year-old’s challenging journey began back in 1977, when no one could figure out what was wrong with her after she was admitted to The Hospital for Sick Children.

Eventually, Cantkier’s parents learned she suffered from the autoimmune disorder celiac disease.

The surface of her small intestine was being damaged by gluten, which lead to her body’s inability to absorb nutrients, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Cantkier’s treatment now includes a lifelong gluten-free diet, which means avoiding wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats.

“I want to help prevent those with celiac disease and food allergies from experiencing the health struggles I’ve had,” she said Tuesday night as she addressed those in the council chambers.

“My work and journey with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affects one in 88 — more than 330,000 Canadians — has been challenging,” she said in her comments.

In November 2011, she created — a directory of gluten-free restaurants, bakeries and even summer camps for children. Cantkier thought of the idea while eating out with a friend who had visited Montreal and was complaining that the city provided few gluten-free options.

Cantkier has also written a gluten-free living guide with health expert Kathy Smart.

Today, she lives in Thornhill with her husband and sons Elan, 8, and Jacob, 5.

Cantkier is a holistic nutritionist, inspired in part by her personal experiences.

“She is really driven to help people live better, healthier lives physically and mentally — especially those with allergies,” said husband Nathan.

“Lisa is doing this for other children, to give options that weren’t there when she was a child,” said Joanna Kagal in an interview after the awards ceremony.

Kagal is a friend who has known Cantkier since 1992.

“She is resourceful. She knows how to network and connect with people,” Kagal  said.

Cantkier was honoured, as well, for her volunteer work. In addition to her nutrition advocacy, Cantkier also volunteers at local schools and coaches her son’s soccer team.

“Our community is made up of dedicated and caring people who truly impact our city, and help make it a better place to live,” said Ward 4 Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco. “Lisa is an exemplary example of this ... she embodies the true spirit of volunteerism and is a role model for people living with celiac disease. We are blessed in Vaughan with people who give back willingly and wholeheartedly. I want to thank Lisa for setting such a positive example for the community.”