A PRIMARY school headteacher who has battled a debilitating illness took time out from her busy schedule to have a special lunch with two pupils.

Tracey Ralph, the head at Westfield School in Acomb treated pupils four-year-old James Dickinson and Jodie Foster, aged eight—and her own daughter Milly Ralph, 20, to a gluten-free meal at Conlans Cafe Bistro in Front Street.

All four of them have coeliac disease and the trip was part of National Coeliac Awareness Week.

Coeliac is an autoimmune disease, triggered by a reaction to gluten - found in wheat, barley and rye - and can cause severe symptoms.

For Mrs Ralph, symptoms came on after pregnancy and the effects of the disease caused her weight to drop to just six stone.

It is treated by following a lifelong gluten-free diet and experts say they believe the increase is due to better diagnosis, rather than to more people developing the condi - tion.

Mrs Ralph said: “At Westfield, a school of nearly 600 pupils, there are just the three of us who are coeliac, and we can eat whole foods like fruit and veg and meat, but processed foods like sausages and burgers are out.

“The cook is great and adapts the menu for school meals and makes things like gluten-free gravy, but when you are out in town it’s often difficult to get a gluten-free lunch as most sandwiches and snacks are not gluten free.

“I thought I would treat Jodie and James to a lunch out, out of my own pocket, to try and highlight these difficulties and also Westfield is a community school supporting local business so that’s why I chose the cafe on Front Street.”

There is a genetic predisposition to the disease and if left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to infertility, osteoporosis and bowel cancer.