A lighter look at the Celtic Curse known as Hemochromatosis

Posted September 14th, 2016 by Canadian Hemochromatosis Society

The following story was published in the September/October issue of The Celtic Connection.

Excerpted from “I am a ghoul” by Peter Dueck

celtic_sept_16_1-13My doctor says that I have HEMOCHROMATOSIS! I do not quite believe him. Even though I respect him for his credentials, fellowships, reputation and gentle care, I think that he is wrong – at least in my case. And before you play the armchair psychologist on me and tell me that I am in denial, please hear me out. I admit to having too much iron and not being happy about it – I know the health complications that can result if I do nothing. It appears that genetics and an aging body are catching up with me. Thanks to my wife and doctor, I have agreed to treatment.

Everyone in the know is convinced that I have the HFE gene for hemochromatosis. But I think – and my young son agrees – that in reality I’ve become a GHOUL; a slave to the vampire; one of his regulars. Not really sick, just a little weak and now enslaved to his teeth: the phlebotomies, or blood-lettings, that I need to lower my iron level and manage my condition.

It all started a few years ago with my brother who fell off a roof and almost died. Throughout his recovery he maintained his lovely flushed cheeks. An observant and knowledgeable doctor (a friend of the vampire) encouraged the testing for hemochromatosis. Sure enough, brother B has too much iron and has the genes. The same goes for most of the siblings. In order to achieve peace in the family, I finally got tested and the rest is history – ghouls and all!

How did this genetic mutation occur? What do we know about the HFE gene? Wouldn’t you know it, the Irish are to blame, or at least the Celts. One of my ancestors, after experiencing a continuous shortage of iron, developed a “survival” genetic mutation and his body began to over-absorb iron. Today nearly 10% of people with European roots carry a mutated HFE gene.

Next week, as scheduled, I will show up at the vampire’s lair, the hospital, for my blood-letting. The receptionist will greet me with a smile and say, “oh, the ghoul has arrived”. A very experienced nurse will get me settled in my bed or lounge chair. With the near perfect combination of pleasantness, authority and proficiency, she will find a vein, and the phlebotomy will begin. As I relax to read or think while they take the blood that will help get my iron levels back to normal, I will take for granted that I am a patient in good hands and in an excellent health system. But as I doze off it occurs to me that I should consider arranging my phlebotomy schedule around the phases of the moon.


Hereditary Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition that causes your body to absorb and retain too much dietary iron, potentially leading to serious disease and early death. Signs and symptoms may include chronic fatigue, joint pain, irregular heartbeat, mood swings, thyroid problems, bronzing of the skin, loss of libido, and premature menopause amongst others. Once diagnosed, hemochromatosis can usually be managed through phlebotomies, or blood-lettings. Visit www.toomuchiron.ca  for more information.