I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease when I was twenty-six. That seems so long ago. Until the time of the diagnosis I didn't even know what the disease is. The Cliff Note's version: medical science's best guess is that an overactive immune system has nothing to attack but is looking for something to attack, so it attacks the lining of the bowels causing "spots" of inflammation. Spots, meaning several centimeters of the GI tract can be clear and then there's an inflamed spot. Clear-inflamed spot-clear. Inflamed spot-clear-inflamed spot-inflamed spot-clear-clear-clear-inflamed spot, and so on. These areas of inflammation prevent the bowel from absorbing nutrients from foods, and what can't be absorbed is rejected by the body which is why the main symptom of Crohn's Disease is chronic diarrhea. This is why it's hard for people who suffer from moderate to severe Crohn's to keep weight on. With me so far? Good.
I really like my G.I. doctor, he's great guy. At a recent office visit, he told me that there is still so much about this disease that we don't know, but there WILL be a cure for it one day. I hope that day is not in the too distant future. Part of the speculation is that, like other Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Crohn's is genetic. Others say it's the result of the S.A.D. (standard American diet). I'm not trying to rip off Forest Gump but maybe it's a little bit of both and more. I've been working out since I played football in high school, but I can't say that my diet was always nutritious and stellar. When I was twenty-six, I was working two jobs as a fraud investigator for Visa and Mastercard and a Tai Chi instructor for a local health and fitness center. I met a guy in the gym who worked out hard and said he was doing a bodily cleanse to help lose weight before building muscle. He told me what he was taking and I went to a natural health food store and bought some and tried it. It was then my diarrhea started and didn't stop. I finally decided to go to the doctor because I was taking Immodium Advanced almost every day just to get some relief when it finally dawned on me that I shouldn't have to be doing that. Other normal people didn't have to...yeah, I'm stubborn. I was referred to a G.I. doctor (not the one I have now) at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and the result was the diagnosis of Crohn's Disease.
My wife and one of my best friends still say it was the supplement I took that caused my disease. I wouldn't say it "caused" it, but maybe it did "activate" it, providing the genetic theory holds water. Again, there is so much about the disease we don't know, and there is a history of irritable bowel syndrome on my mother's side of the family. So in my case, it looks like both aforementioned theories could be true. I've had so many colonoscopies and endoscopies that I've lost count. You know the stages of grief? Yeah, I was in denial for right at two years before I would admit to anyone that I had Crohn's. There's something about being told you have a chronic illness that will NEVER go away that hits you in the gut like cannon ball. I was put on the TNF Inhibitor (an immuno suppressant), Remicade, which has to be administered intravenously like chemo, and took 8 treatments a year for about seven to eight years. In 2009, I had my gall bladder removed which the doctor said could have been Crohn's related. I didn't yet have gall stones but I had small particles that would eventually become gall stones. Then in 2011, it got to where I could hardly eat because it literally hurt too bad to swallow food. The pain was excruciating around my diaphragm area, but it wasn't deep. Meaning: it didn't feel like it was deep inside my stomach but more just below the surface. The brilliant UT doctor declared it was acid reflux and put me on a reflux medication. You want to talk about losing weight? You lose weight when no matter how big or how small of a plate you have, you can only manage to eat about a quarter of the food on it. I'll never forget how intense that pain was. It felt like someone stabbing me with a dull letter opener and then twisting it.
It turned out to be my chiropractor who correctly diagnosed the source of the pain. There's a group of nerves that run from the ileum portion of the bowel diagonally up the torso through the diaphragm area, around the ribs, and under the left shoulder blade. I had an abscess in the ileum portion of my bowel. Once discovered, the UT doctor put me in the hospital for heavy doses of IV antibiotics and observation. Didn't attempt to drain the abscess or surgically remove it. After three days, he sent me home and I felt okay for about a week. Then the pain came back because the abscess was still there and it was affecting those nerves. I finally got it in my head to get a second opinion and I went to the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, which is said to be the number 1 or number 2 GI lab in the country. And I believe it. They saved my life. After looking at my test and CT results, the GI doctor up there asked what took me so long to get there. They recommended me for surgery and on December 23, 2011 I had a bowel resection.
On an extremely personal note, I'll tell you that I am an bible-believing Christian and I know for a fact that God showed up in my operating room that day. I know because my surgeon, who to this day is still rated one of the best colo-rectal surgeons in the country, told me in the hallway before I went under that after reviewing my CT scans that there was so much inflammation and damage from the disease to my ileum, that he wasn't sure he'd be able to do the resection. He said I should prepare myself to wake up from surgery with a colostomy bag. He said he would do his best, but he wasn't optimistic. With a smile, I told him to do what he had to do and that Jesus would take care of me. After the surgery, I woke up in recovery and I heard my mother's voice say, "well, you don't have a colostomy bag." I believe the one true God, Who is the creator of the universe and everything in it is greater than anything we can ever face, and He stepped in and made the bowel resection possible. I can also say there's nothing like going to sleep in pre-surgery prep room knowing you may not wake up in this world again. It gives you a lot to think about. Especially where matters of faith are concerned. Was I scared? Of course. But did I have an unexplainable peace in my soul regardless of the outcome? Yes. My daughter wasn't born yet, but I certainly wanted to live and watch my little boy grow up and grow old with my wife. But if I didn't live I knew that Jesus would be waiting for me on the other side. That is the kind of peace that ONLY comes from knowing Jesus Christ as your personal savior. For those of you reading this who don't know Him, I pray that it doesn't take a car wreck, laying on an operating table for several hours, or a near-death experience, etc. for you to find Him.
A bowel resection is a long recovery. I lost 43 pounds from Thanksgiving to Christmas in 2011. I came out of surgery weighing 153 pounds and looking like a holocaust victim (one of my cousin's words). From there, my disease stayed in remission until this year. However, a quick word about abscesses--50% of all abscesses turn into fistulas. Google it. Basically, the former abscess decides to become a tunnel and bore its way through your muscle. It can only be corrected with surgery. So then in 2013, I had to have surgery for a fistula correction. I have since been praying for the next decade to be surgery free. Join me in that prayer if you find the time. :)
I have since gained my weight back and by looking at me you couldn't tell that my Crohn's has come out of remission. My doctor has referred me to Vanderbilt for a second opinion, which I greatly respect him for, to see how long I should be on an immuno-suppressant and which kind. Remicade, Humira, etc....there are several. However, long term use of those drugs comes with a price. They make the patient susceptible to bacterial infections and certain kinds of cancers. As I mentioned, I've taken Remicade before and didn't have any side effects that I noticed, but when I stopped taking it I had hoped to never have to take anything like it ever again. The positive side is that immuno-(TNF)-inhibitors help put the disease into remission and control fistulas. Kind of like prednisone, which I'm on a regiment of now and can't wait to get off of, it sucks taking it because you eat everything in sight and gain weight, but it's great at knocking out inflammation. You also have more energy than you know what to do with. The downside: EVERYTHING irritates you and makes you prone to emotional outbursts. Yes, I'm kinda bias against conventional drugs but they have their uses when they do what they are supposed to.
A holistic approach I'm exploring with optimistic results are the use of Genesis Pure products. Check them out online for yourself. The super-fruit Noni juice is one of the best "treatments" for digestive problems. I also drink Mangosteen juice and Go Yin juice. The Mangosteen is a natural anti-inflammatory and the Go Yin is supposed to alkalize the blood; current research shows that cancer and Crohn's Disease cannot "live" in an alkaline state. I'll have to write a follow-up article and let you know how true or not true this is. I'm also getting ready to start a regiment of Coral Calcium, chai, and several other natural remedies. I've been taking organic sulfur for about 6 months now, and I can it's been very beneficial for my joints and allergies. I have read testimonies and research on the uses of these holistic remedies with startling positive results. Personally, I don't believe there is a disease on this plant that God did not create a natural cure for. Just my opinion. Try the Genesis Pure products and make up your own mind.
(Explore the information on Inflammatory Bowel Disease for yourself at: https://www.crohnsandcolitis.com/
I'm not a doctor but I am a person suffering from a disease that I wish I didn't have. Everyone's body is different. If you suffer from Crohn's Disease, Colitis, gastritis, or any kind of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, I strongly encourage you to find a good GI doctor that you're comfortable with and discover the level of your illness (mild, moderate, severe, etc.) before you do anything else. Find out what you can eat and what you can't. One thing I really respect about my GI doctor is that he doesn't want to use drugs unless there is no other option, which there may not be for me right now. Eat good natural foods, increase natural fiber intake, and if you're anemic (like me) eat spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, and other foods that are high in iron. Remember that disease is VERY personal. It's a journey. Some days are better than others. Points again to my doctor for telling me he things the best way for every day combat against the disease is healthy diet, exercise, and getting ENOUGH sleep. I have to concur. Those three things are probably one of the best recipes for combating 80% of the common diseases that Americans face, in my opinion. The sleep thing is tough for me because I'm a night owl, and I like to stay up and write. My writer friends will understand.
If you have any questions about Crohn's, Genesis Pure, my personal journey, or anything else, just message or email me. Thanks for reading.
God bless you,
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!