Andraa Rosenberger's Story
A few years before I received my ulcerative colitis diagnosis, I was a social work graduate student at West Virginia University. I began experiencing blood and mucus in my stool as well as bouts of constipation and diarrhea. I went to my doctor on more than one occasion, and was continually misdiagnosed.
In July 2010, while vacationing at the beach with some friends, I started experiencing diarrhea up to 20 times a day along with bloody bowel movements, abdominal pain, urgency, fatigue, chills, night sweats, nausea, and vomiting. Once I returned home to Morgantown, I ended up in the emergency room multiple times over the course of a week. I was finally admitted for further testing, including a colonoscopy. It was then that I learned I had ulcerative colitis. I was so scared I was only 27-years-old, and was faced with having to live with a lifelong chronic illness.
The next two years after my diagnosis, I was lucky enough to be in remission for the majority of the time. I was on a medication regimen that was working well for me, although very expensive. It was a struggle each month to pay for the medications that I knew I had to have in order to live my life. Eventually those medications stopped working, and the next three years I experienced multiple flare ups. I tried numerous medications to try and help control my UC, such as aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and biologic therapies, all of which failed. I had multiple doctor visits, tests and procedures conducted, bloodwork, and tried different diets. I ended up being hospitalized at least seven times in a period of two-three years. During one hospitalization, I contracted C.diff, which I was unable to get rid of for over a year even after multiple rounds of antibiotics and a fecal transplant.
During one hospitalization, I became severely ill and had to be transported by ambulance to UPMC in Pittsburgh. I was so dehydrated I had to have a central line placed in my neck to help administer fluids and medications. Within a couple years, my symptoms went from mild to severe, and I was experiencing diarrhea 30+ times a day, abdominal pain, urgency, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, fevers, fatigue, rashes, mouth ulcers, fissures, hair loss, unhealthy nails, eye inflammation, anxiety, and inflammation in my joints. I was given a blood transfusion due to my blood count being so low. It was recommended by my local gastroenterologist and family doctor that I get a consult with a colorectal surgeon.
In October 2014, I made the trip from West Virginia to The Cleveland Clinic where they conducted several tests and procedures and informed me my best option would be having a total proctocolectomy and ileal pouch-anal anastomosis, also known as a j-pouch, to treat my UC. In January 2015, my family and I traveled to The Cleveland Clinic where I had my large intestine removed, internal j-pouch created out of my small intestine, and was given a temporary ileostomy. Unfortunately, I experienced some complications - I developed two blood clots and had to be placed on blood thinners.
In June 2015, I started experiencing severe abdominal pain and vomiting. I had developed a bowel obstruction from scar tissue wrapping around my small intestine, and I had to be rushed into emergency surgery. Before the doctors could operate, I was given several units of plasma due to being on blood thinners. After the emergency surgery, my incision became infected and I had to be placed on an antibiotic.
Finally, in October 2015, I had my third and final surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to have my ileostomy reversed and my j-pouch connected. Unfortunately, my hospital stay was longer than anticipated due to me developing ileus, the inability of the intestine to contract normally and move waste out of the body. I had to have a nasogastric (NG) tube placed from my nose to my stomach and I developed pneumonia.
Last year, I began experiencing pain, redness, and swelling in my joints, and I was diagnosed with arthritis associated with my autoimmune disorder. Although my immune system could no longer attack my colon, it moved on to my joints. I had to start seeing a rheumatologist regularly, and began on biologic therapies. Although these medications were unsuccessful in treating my UC, they are helping with the arthritis.
Since my surgeries, my quality of life has improved tremendously. Even though I'm still learning to adjust to life with my j-pouch, it has given me my life back and I am no longer a prisoner of my disease. I'm thankful for the medical technology and that The Cleveland Clinic which gave me a second chance at life and the hope to live without pain and suffering. This process has taught me every day is a blessing and to live life to the fullest. I'm beyond grateful for the love and support I received and continue to receive from my family, my husband, friends, and coworkers. I could not have made it on this journey without them.