Erin Bush understands the importance of “Making the Invisible Visible,” the theme for this year’s World IBD Day.
Since birth, there were always certain foods that bothered Erin’s stomach so her mother naturally modified Erin’s diet accordingly. Erin continued this way of eating throughout her childhood, knowing that if she ate certain foods she would most certainly suffer the consequences later. It never occurred to them that Erin could actually be suffering from a serious inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) known as Crohn’s Disease.
When Erin was 18 years old she began experiencing extreme abdominal pain and went to the emergency room. The ER doctors assumed her appendix had ruptured and admitted her for surgery. During surgery they discovered that Erin’s appendix was fine. Exploratory surgery revealed that Erin’s bowel had been severely damaged by Crohn’s Disease, an incurable autoimmune disorder causing inflammation of the digestive tract that causes abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. This discovery resulted in the removal of a portion of her small and large bowel, and revealed the root cause of her “sensitive stomach” that she had been dealing with her entire life.
Erin, now 41, has spent the last 23 years learning how to make the most of life with Crohn’s Disease. She is still very careful to watch what she eats, to strictly take all of her medications daily, and to go for infusion therapy every eight weeks to keep her immune system suppressed.
“Because my treatment suppresses my immune system, I get sick more often and it takes me longer to recover from an injury or illness. If I get the actual stomach flu, I usually end up in the hospital for several days,” Erin said. “If someone in our house gets the stomach flu, my husband tells me to just leave the house – go! Go to work, hang out with friends afterward, come home and sleep, but get up and get out before whoever’s sick gets up.”
Erin is fortunate for someone suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). While pain and fatigue occur routinely as she deals with everyday situations, such as what she can safely eat in restaurants and always scouting out a bathroom, Erin has been in remission for six years and hasn’t had a Crohn’s disease flare-up in eight years. Despite being told initially by doctors that she would not have a normal life and possibly not have children, Erin and her husband, Corey, are successfully raising three daughters: Adrian, 20; Ashley, 15; and Addison, 10.
Her recipe for success?
“Find a really good specialist and make that physician your primary coordinator of care,” Erin recommends. “Be your own advocate. Don’t automatically go along with what other people tell you, because what it is like for them will not necessarily be what it is like for you. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t.”
“It is so important to take your medications, even when you’re feeling well, so problems don’t develop later,” Erin added. “Have people to talk to, like a support group and family and friends who can give you some love and guidance to help you through the tough times.”
“And remember,” she said, “You can live a normal life and do things you want to do.”
While having more doctor’s appointments and taking more medication than the average person, Erin does not let her autoimmune disorder define her life. Erin has a full time job, travels, and does volunteer work. She attends all of her kids’ school and sporting events and enjoys everyday normal life.
World IBD Day is Sunday, May 19. On Saturday, May 18, the annual Austin Take Steps Walk is scheduled to start at The Long Center at 11 a.m. Both raise awareness about Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis that affect more than 3 million in the U.S. Austin Gastroenterology is proud to support both events and encourages you to learn more about them.