If you're suffering silently with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, Amanda Kennedy wants you to know you are not alone - and don't give up.
Kennedy, a 2000 Brainerd High School graduate, became gravely ill with ulcerative colitis in 2003 while a college student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D. She was a math education major and classes were becoming increasingly stressful. Stress has been known to trigger ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, and Kennedy believes this may have been the trigger for her. The pain grew increasingly worse that during early 2003 she underwent her first colonoscopy at St. Joseph's Medical Center, where Dr. John Berg diagnosed the then 22-year-old with ulcerative colitis.
Connie (left) and Randy Christensen shared a laugh with their daughter, Amanda Kennedy (center) at the Christensens' north Brainerd home. Kennedy credits her parents for helping her through her battle with ulcerative colitis in 2003.» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
The diagnosis stunned Kennedy's parents, Randy and Connie Christensen of north Brainerd. No one else in the family had been diagnosed with a similar illness. Despite taking 16 pills a day and other medical treatments, Kennedy's condition grew worse. In early June she had dropped 20 pounds, weighing just 115, because no food would stay in her system. The immune systems of those who suffer from IBD react inappropriately. Instead of protecting the body from infection, it mistakenly attacks food, bacteria and other materials in the intestine.
"It went in and came right out," Kennedy said of food she ate. "My body was just mad at me."
How to help
The Strike Out Crohn's and Colitis Bowl-a-thon is planned for 6-8 p.m. Sunday at Jack's House in Brainerd.
For more information, e-mail the chapter office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (651) 917-2424 or (888) 422-3266 or register at the Web site, minnesota.ccfa.org. Donations may be made to individuals or teams online as well.
She was hospitalized for a week at St. Joseph's in June, spending her 23rd birthday in the hospital. She then spent two weeks recovering at her parent's north Brainerd home but she still couldn't keep anything down. She became so weak she couldn't walk without assistance. Her mother had to practically carry her to the car when she drove her to a specialty clinic in Plymouth on June 22. Once there, the clinic specialists told her mom she needed to be driven right away to the emergency room at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. After spending 10 hours in the emergency room to stabilize her health, Kennedy was prepped for surgery the following day to remove the entire six feet of her infected colon. Her father was on a fishing trip in Canada and made it to her room just minutes before she was taken to the operating room the following morning. Doctors told the family they had never seen a colon that has been so badly ulcerated.
"The doctors said it was the maddest colon they've ever seen," said Kennedy. "It was angry."
After doctors removed Kennedy's colon, they created a small opening in her abdomen called a stoma where waste would then travel through her small intestine and exit the body through a pouch, or an ileostomy. Two weeks after surgery she contracted an infection in her stoma and had to undergo yet another surgery. A year later, Kennedy underwent additional surgeries to have a J-pouch created, which allows waste to leave the body from the small intestine in a more natural elimination process. She no longer requires an ostomy bag. Throughout the entire process, she has had her colon, appendix, gall bladder and rectum removed.
She met her husband, Dan, three weeks before her first surgery and he has remained by her side during the entire ordeal. The couple will celebrate their first anniversary on Friday.
"She gave him every chance to leave and he wouldn't leave," Randy Christensen said of his daughter.
"Meeting Dan made me realize I still had a future here," Kennedy said with a smile.
Kennedy said her husband gave her many reasons to get healthy and live. Doctors have told her she can get pregnant, that she'll just have to have a Cesarean section when the time comes. While in the hospital, Kennedy made a list of all the things she wants to do in her life, things like skydiving, which she, her husband and her dad hope to do together, despite her mother's protests. Her doctors have told her there is basically nothing she can't do. Since she no longer has a colon, she does not suffer from ulcerative colitis anymore.
"I realized there's so much more I want to do," said Kennedy. "God decided not to give it to someone else and for some reason I was meant to live with it."
Kennedy said her illness has made her family a lot closer.
"I don't know what I'd do without them," Kennedy said of her parents.
Kennedy, now 26, did return to college and got her bachelor's degree in organizational management from the College of St. Scholastica. She now works at Close-Converse, running the front desk area, and just earned her real estate license. She and her husband, who is a project manager at Kuepers Construction, live in Breezy Point. They enjoy golfing and boating together. Kennedy has learned to not be so self-conscious of her abdominal scars when she's wearing her swimsuit, she said.
Kennedy plans to have her own team, Team Survival, in Sunday's Strike Out Crohn's and Colitis Bowl-a-thon at Jack's House in Brainerd. She has found support throughout the community from family and friends and from people who also have suffered or are suffering from ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. She's also made friends online through a J-pouch support group. She hopes she can offer hope to others out there who are suffering through this disease.
"I just want people to be aware they're not alone," said Kennedy. "It's not a very talked about disease and I learned it's OK to talk about it."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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