By Felicia DeInnocentiis | Staff Writer
One look at senior Ryan Chapman gives no cause to wonder if he is in any way unusual. But beneath the surface, Chapman is living with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory illness. The cause of Crohn’s is unknown, but strong evidence points to a combination of genetics and an improperly functioning immune system.
“It was eighth grade [when I was diagnosed]. I got it [through] my dad. He has ulcerative colitis, and I got Crohn’s,” Chapman said. “Crohn’s disease is pretty much your white blood cells start attacking the body; and symptoms are diarrhea, internal bleeding, cramps, [and] sharp pains in the stomach.”
With the aid of medication, Chapman doesn’t experience these symptoms often, but when he has a “flare-up” (a term used to describe a recent activity of symptoms), the gravity of his condition is apparent.
“I have the Army’s most renowned gastrologist, and I was his third worst case,” he said. “My new doctor, Dr. Jones, [says] I’m his worst case he’s ever seen. It’s pretty much throughout my entire system.”
Senior Stephen Bartkowski, a friend of Chapman’s, has ulcerative colitis, a similar type illness that is not as severe as Crohn’s.
“[We became friends] about two and a half years ago,” Bartkowski said.
Bartkowski could immediately relate when Chapman told him of his condition, and they became friends quickly.
“I guess it made us tighter. We both know what the other was going through when it first affected us. [We experience] intense stomach pain, as if acid is in it. Not to the point where you yell, but you don’t want to move,” Bartkowski said, describing the effects of flare-ups, which can happen even under regulated diet and medication.
The symptoms are agonizing, but Chapman’s military healthcare alleviates the cost and pain of his disease. Chapman usually goes through his daily life with little cause for complaint. He doesn’t need to change his diet because of his medication. The only kind of limitation he experiences is during exercise.
“If I go running for a long time, my stomach starts to hurt. It’s a lot more intense than cramps,” Chapman said.
Unfortunately, Chapman’s body is starting to build up a resistance to the medication, a common reaction in many patients.
“[I] get used to medication, so I have to switch it every, about five years. My cholesterol is either good or bad , and so if I were to take, if I were to overdose per se, it could kill me because of the poison in it. But the poison also fights Crohn’s disease. So I have to balance it.,” he said. “[I] can’t take too much or else I die; if I don’t take enough, the Crohn’s disease will kill me. So I have to stay in this little [balanced] area.”
When Chapman is no longer covered by insurance, surgery may become his only option.
“I had a colonoscopy before school started, and if it looked bad, I might’ve had part of my stomach taken out. [Surgery will] probably happen eventually, when I’m twenty one, when Medicare won’t cover me.”
Fortunately for Chapman, doctors and specialists are testing different treatments for Crohn’s, looking for a cure and more efficient medication.
“There is no cure. They’re working on it,” he said. “I know in the next couple years they’ll have better treatments.”