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Finally Getting Relief

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Laura Zabriskie

September 6, 2018
Dan Ridgely found ways to manage his stomach issues until 2005, when he experienced such severe bowel pain that his wife rushed him to the emergency room. During emergency surgery, doctors found that he had developed a full bowel blockage and had to remove a section of his colon. Shortly afterwards, Dan was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a disease that causes chronic inflammation along the digestive tract. While he was diagnosed quickly, it took more than a decade for him to get the right treatment.

People with Crohn's regularly deal with diarrhea, fatigue, constipation, and painful abdominal cramps, which can be debilitating. Dan experienced all of these symptoms and they significantly disrupted his life. His fatigue made it difficult get up to go to work and he lost his desire to participate in social events. "I didn't want to go anywhere, and I was in pain all the time," he says. His exhaustion went far beyond normal tiredness and he was having diarrhea six to seven times a day. He always needed to know where the closest bathroom was.

Although it's a fairly common condition, the effectiveness of Crohn's treatments can vary from person to person. For Dan, nothing seemed to work and he felt his original gastroenterologist (GI) didn’t listen to his concerns. Eventually, Dan’s body stopped absorbing nutrients and he rapidly lost weight despite eating normally. His primary care doctor confirmed he was malnourished. After several years, Dan and his doctor did find a treatment that worked well enough for him to function again. While his Crohn's was still active, he was able to manage his symptoms and go back to living a semi-normal life.

Unfortunately, in 2014, Dan began having difficulty swallowing, which his primary care doctor believed was caused by acid reflux. When reflux treatments proved to be ineffective, he was referred to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. To his frustration, the ENT was unable to diagnose an illness and he ended up with another GI doctor.

Crohn's disease can affect the entire digestive tract and his new doctor discovered that it had travelled up to his esophagus. Once again, Dan found himself trying treatment after treatment with little success. His continually changing medications severely affected his immune system and even small issues wreaked havoc on his body. In 2017, he contracted viral meningitis, which was only diagnosed after three visits to the emergency department. "I just wanted someone to listen to me; I knew something was wrong."

The flare up in his throat coincided with a flare up in his small bowel, and Dan struggled through increasingly frequent episodes that could take up to a week to recover from. There were times when he felt like he couldn’t even get up out of his chair to go to the bathroom — if he said he was having a "good" day, he meant he wasn't in constant, excruciating pain. It got so bad that his gastroenterologist said there was no more that he could do and referred him to Dr. Whitehead at GBMC, a gastroenterologist who has a special interest in inflammatory disease like Crohn’s.

Seeing Dr. Whitehead felt like a breath of fresh air. She sat down, listened to him, and worked to find the actual problem. "Dr. Whitehead was incredibly proactive and she found exactly what I needed," says Dan. It turned out that his previous medications hadn't worked because they were treating his colon rather than his small bowel. His symptoms significantly improved once he began taking the proper medication.

Despite a more than 30-minute commute, Dan continues to see Dr. Whitehead. Although it isn’t all smooth sailing, Dan finally feels like his doctor cares about him. He points to a time when his wife called the office with a question and Dr. Whitehead personally returned the call to schedule tests the next day. "None of my other doctors would have done that," he says. Crohn's is a chronic disease and Dan still experiences some side effects and symptoms, but Dr. Whitehead is always there and ready to tackle whatever problems arise. Dan has energy that he hasn't felt in years. He no longer scopes out bathrooms everywhere he goes, he isn’t in frequent pain, and his blood tests are coming back normal. "I got my life back," he says.

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