It's a chronic disease most people would rather not talk about.
But a Brainerd woman is speaking out about her private battle with Crohn's disease in the hope that people will become educated about the disease, and help her raise funds to find a cure.
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, also known as inflammatory bowel disease, are similar serious inflammatory diseases of the intestines. They cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and fever, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. Medications can control most symptoms, but the only cure is surgical removal of the colon.
"It's a bathroom disease," said Sari Legge, Brainerd. "People don't want to talk about it."
Legge, 41, was diagnosed at age 22 with Crohn's disease. At 27, she underwent her first surgery to have her entire colon removed, which means she wears an ostomy appliance that diverts waste from the bowels to a pouch at her waist. She underwent a second surgery in 1997 to remove another foot of diseased intestine. Out of the 21 feet of intestine, she has about 17 feet left, she said.
Legge has been in remission since her second surgery, but the disease could return.
"It's a ticking time bomb," said Legge. "It either will come back or it won't."
Despite the disease, Legge was able to carry and deliver her son Jake, now 9, to full term. Jake thought all mothers had ostomy bags until one day as a preschooler he surprised his day-care provider while she was in the bathroom.
Legge met her second husband, Peter, just before her second surgery when she was sick. Peter, who is originally from York, England, closed his business, Europa Motor Sports, last fall. He works at Heartland Tire Service in Brainerd where he is a master technician specializing in European automobiles. The couple has been married for four years. Ironically, his sister-in-law in England also battles Crohn's disease.
"Peter is my be-all, end-all, anchor and hero," said Legge. "Jake is, too."
Legge is spearheading a Strike Out Crohn's and Colitis Bowl-a-thon starting 9 a.m. Saturday at Paul Bunyan Bowl in Baxter. The event will raise funds for the CCFA, which is the only national non-profit health organization that serves people who have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. According to the organization, 79 cents of every dollar raised by the CCFA goes directly to research and educational programs.
Bowling teams of four to six people are needed for the event. Every bowler who brings in a $50 donation will receive a free CCFA bowl-a-thon T-shirt. Other prizes also will be awarded.
Matthew Mullen, 15, a ninth-grader at Osseo Junior High School, is a youth ambassador for the Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter of the CCFA. He was 9 when he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and will be at the Saturday bowl-a-thon in Baxter. About 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with IBD each year, many of whom are children and young adults.
Brochures on the event are available at Heartland Tire Service and Paul Bunyan Bowl. If you or your business would like to donate an item to the bowl-a-thon, contact Legge at 828-8468 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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