Jessica Ulrich's Story

Shining Bright with Crohn's Disease

My name is Jessica and I have Crohn's disease. That sounds odd to say, it's like I have a second part to my name, Jessica, Crohn's disease. But as many of you know, it is not too far off to have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis closely linked to you.

I received my diagnosis at 14, and I can still remember my doctor telling me "Jessica, you have Crohn's disease and it is something you will have for the rest of your life, but the good news is that with the right life choices and medications, you can still do everything you've wanted to do and live a long happy life."

My desire to become a doctor started in high school and grew stronger in college as I experienced the difference my doctors made in my life. In my fourth year of college I took the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) for entrance into medical school. During this time I happened to be in a long and painful flare. I was admitted into the hospital and an MRI was ordered and as luck would have it, it was the same day and time that my MCAT score was going to be posted. Laying still in the MRI, my only thoughts were of my MCAT scores.

Back in my hospital room I immediately grabbed my phone, as soon as I saw my score I burst into tears, it was the score I was hoping for. At that moment the doctor walked in with his resident and was shocked and concerned to see me crying. I laughed and explained that I had just received my MCAT score and these were happy tears. He congratulated me and introduced his resident, who as chance would have it, had just returned back to work after an extended break to recover from surgery for his Crohn's disease. The resident explained that he would finish his residency but it would just take him longer than the rest of his class. I did not know it then, but this moment foreshadowed my future as a physician. And although this may not sound like the ideal setting to find out important information about your future, I would not have it any other way, it was in the style of a true IBD patient.

It was in my third year of medical school that my Crohn's disease decided to stomp on the brakes. After numerous hospital visits, I learned that medications could no longer control my disease. I now required surgery. Hearing this news was incredibly difficult. I didn't have time for surgery - I needed to be at school, I had to finish medical school in four years like you are "supposed to." I was overcome with anxiety, depression, and fear as to what the future had in store for me. The six months surrounding my surgery were some of the toughest. I relied on my family and friends for extra support. Working to build me up, my support system was there with me every step of the way.

Last September, I had 18 inches of my small intestine removed as well as my appendix. Surprise, I also had appendicitis; however I had no idea since I was accustomed to living with pain. I missed six months of medical school and made the difficult decision to delay my graduation by one year. I realize it is a completely normal reaction to want to do things the way you are "supposed to," but Crohn's disease has a mind of its own and often strays from the most likely path. At first glance, this seemed like a bad thing, but for me it has actually been a blessing. Straying off the normal path has not only made me a stronger person but it has also afforded me opportunities that I would have never otherwise experienced - taking trips with loved ones, meeting new people, and helping me to find a better life balance between school and Crohn's disease. Living with IBD has made me a strong believer in the phrase, "everything happens for a reason."