Cal Shockley's Story
Return to the Pool After J-Pouch
As told by his mother Laurel Shockley
My active, outdoors loving, nine-year-old son Cal was having a wonderful week at a boys’ wilderness day camp seven years ago. What could be better than bows and arrows, canoeing, and jumping off rope swings into a creek? After the last day of camp, we noticed a rash on Cal's legs. It was apparent he had come in contact with poison ivy. Even after treating, the rash became worse and hives developed all over his legs. This seems to have been the trigger that set his ulcerative colitis in motion.
Cal began having the very painful symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis; however, we did not know what was happening. Our multiple visits to Cal's doctor included blood tests, stool samples, and other diagnostic attempts, but to no avail. Cal's pain was becoming increasingly unbearable. We were in and out of the hospital a couple of times, receiving fluids as he was becoming dehydrated routinely.
Finally, one day while Cal was laying in the back seat of the car crying in pain, he said, "What about John's dad? He is a stomach doctor, right?" He was talking about a family friend who was a pediatric gastroenterologist. Why had that not occurred to me sooner? I called our friend, and he was able to see Cal in his office right away. Cal started on a round of steroids, but in no time, we were back in the hospital because of the excessive bleeding and excruciating pain. It is hard to remember when we finally went in to have an endoscopy and colonoscopy, but the doctor came out immediately afterwards to tell us that Cal had ulcerative colitis. I didn't know what ulcerative colitis was, but thought this was good news - to actually know the problem. My thinking was, "Great, now give us the pill or the shot that makes it go away!" I could tell by the look on our doctor's face that this was not great news.
After Cal's diagnosis, we continued with steroids to try to bring what we now knew was a flare into submission. Unfortunately, this never happened. Cal spent a lot of time in the hospital, receiving blood transfusions, heavy steroids, and pain medication. Eventually there was no choice - Cal's colon perforated and had to be partially removed in an emergency surgery. One week after the first surgery, massive hemorrhaging resulted in a second emergency surgery to remove the rest of his colon.
Cal was in very poor physical condition; his body was thin and frail, and he had shut down emotionally. Our funny, happy, athletic boy had been brought down by UC. Doctors told us he would be able to have a j-pouch constructed, but his body would need time to heal before that was possible. Removing the diseased colon was a miracle. Cal began to eat again, gaining weight and eventually returning to school. He had missed the first quarter of his fourth grade year. We never wanted the colostomy to slow Cal down, so we went forward with gusto! We rode bikes, Cal played a season of basketball and baseball, and went to school everyday.
The hardest part was missing out on swim team in the summer. Our neighborhood pool was Cal's second home then, and still is. He still went to the pool and hung out with his friends every day that summer, but he couldn't do his favorite thing - swim on the swim team. Finally, nine months after the emergency surgeries to remove his colon, Cal's body was ready for the two surgeries to construct a j-pouch and then connect it. We knew the results of this surgery could not be fully predicted, and prayed that his would be successful.
Thankfully, the surgeries went well. There have been no problems with Cal's j-pouch. He has adjusted well to the changes that come with having a j-pouch. Cal is careful about his diet and takes probiotics without fail. We are always reading and learning all that we can about how Cal can best take care of his body and give his j-pouch the best chances to continue successfully.
Cal is now about to celebrate his 16th birthday. He went straight back to swimming as soon as he could after his surgeries and, while it took him awhile to build his strength and endurance back, he is an amazing swimmer. He swims before and after school every day, helps coach the younger kids in the summer, works with a special needs swim team, and hopes to swim in college when the time comes.