Photo Credit: Bridget Alldritt
Bridget Alldritt, 20-year-old college student in Chisago City, MN
Figuring Out What's Wrong
"I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 9, after six months of severe symptoms, including frequent runs to the bathroom where I would mostly see blood. I had lost a lot of weight, was becoming dehydrated, and I was very pale and could barely keep down any food. It took a lot of time and several different doctors to figure out what was wrong with me. My mother was a nurse, and she was friends with an ER physician whose wife had ulcerative colitis (UC). He recognized my symptoms immediately and referred me to a gastroenterologist, who told me that if I had waited one more week to see her, I might have died. She did a colonoscopy and within a minute confirmed that I had UC, which was not only throughout my colon but had even spread into my small intestine.
"For the next three years after my diagnosis, I tried every UC drug that was available, usually in the highest doses possible. I gained 60 pounds and developed a moon face on steroids. I even took a small dose of chemotherapy to suppress my immune system. I would get better for a little while, but every time my doctor would begin to wean me off my medications, I would flare-up again and end up right back in the hospital with terrible symptoms. Finally when I was 12, my doctor visited me in the hospital and said, 'You can't take this anymore. You have to have the surgery. It's going to save your life.'"
The Turning Point
"So, at age 12, I had my entire large intestine and one-third of my small intestine removed. For four months afterward, I had an ileostomy bag, which was the worst part of the whole thing. It was so painful, having part of my intestine sticking out of my side like that. It was so hard to adjust. I couldn't go to school or do much of anything. Four months after my first surgery, the doctors did a second surgery and hooked everything up again. Since then, I have had an internal pouch that helps everything digest correctly."
A Bright Future
"Now my life is pretty normal. Before surgery, I had a very limited diet. I couldn't eat fruits, vegetables, seeds; no roughage at all. Now I can eat whatever I want, with the exception of certain meats that I find difficult to digest (I just avoid them). I don't think that UC really impacts my social life or my dating life. I'm very open about it. I'm not afraid to say, 'Yeah, sure, I have a 12-inch scar on my stomach.' If people don't want to hear about it, they can walk away. I know other people my age smoke and drink, but I don't; I take the best care of my body that I can. I don't want to end up in the hospital again.
"I have developed rheumatoid arthritis, which happens often in people with UC, so now I take medicine for my arthritis. I can't run because of the stress on my joints, but I did walk a half-marathon last fall for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and I loved doing it. I'm thinking of transferring to a college down in Florida; the heat really helps my arthritis and they have a program in hospitality and restaurant management. I love to cook, and someday I'd like to write a cookbook for people with inflammatory bowel diseases because I would have loved to have had one when I was diagnosed.
"I consider myself lucky. My surgery worked. I don't have an ileostomy bag anymore and I can lead a normal life. This disease has taught me who I am. It's helped me realize that I am a strong person and I can do anything and get through anything if I just set my mind to it. If I could go back in time, I would do it all over again. My advice to others diagnosed with UC is don't be ashamed of it, and don't give up just because one treatment doesn't work. Keep looking for the right doctor and the right treatment and learn as much as you can about the disease as possible. Realize that you have a disease; the disease doesn't have you."