We are thrilled that Executive Committee member, Chris Kuehl, is the Take Steps Atlanta hero for 2021! Chris shares his inspirational journey below. If you would like to nominate someone to be our local Honored Hero, please complete the ‘Nominate an Honored Hero’ form under ‘Stories’.
Let me just get right to it. Ulcerative colitis is a very crappy disease. Literally. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2013 as a 23 year-old fresh out of college. On the day of my diagnosis, I never imagined what a roller coaster of ups and downs my journey would be over the next seven years. I certainly did not imagine that I would eventually lose a major organ to the disease. However, that outcome eventually became my reality as I underwent the surgical removal of my entire large intestine in 2018 due to the severity and persistence of my ulcerative colitis.
Over the course of 10 months, I had three major surgeries as part of the three-step J Pouch procedure to create a permanent makeshift colon out of my small intestine. I had to get used to a new plumbing system after each of these surgeries. I had six separate hospital visits during this time totaling around 25 days in the hospital. And with the surgeries and following periods of recovery, I had to take 16 weeks of medical leave from work. From the stories I’ve heard with other IBD patients, my experience with the disease and surgeries weren’t even half bad in comparison.
However, I’m happy to say that I’m in a much better state of health since my surgeries. While I still visit the bathroom more often than a normal person, and I’m still on medications to help manage some persistent effects of the disease; the pain, fatigue, and urgency that the ulcerative colitis caused are now much more easily managed and I am thankful to feel like myself again.
Though ulcerative colitis has put my wife and me through a lot over the last seven years, it has also taught us the importance of being grateful. Grateful for an amazing support system of family and friends who fly across the country to help take care of you or even just simply reach out to see how you’re feeling, helping you know that people are thinking of you. It has taught us to be grateful for amazing doctors and surgeons who truly care about you and want to see you get better. (Immense gratitude goes out to Dr. David Quinn of Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates and Dr. Joseph Mareno of ATL Colorectal Surgery, the best doctors anyone could ask for.) Grateful for amazing advances in medical technology that allow me to live and function without a major organ. Grateful for health and each day of feeling well, not taking any of it for granted. And grateful for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
Over three million Americans have to deal with the ravaging Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and while many are not forced to have major surgeries like I was, all have to deal with the ups and downs of debilitating symptom flare-ups, powerful medications to keep symptoms in check, and living with the unknown of what the next day will bring. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCF) exists to help the millions of patients and their caregivers cope with and battle these diseases each and every day.
I Take Steps because I support the CCF’s mission of finding cures, educating patients and caregivers on how to better manage the diseases, and providing a community of support. The CCF’s work in improving the quality of lives of those affected by these diseases is a cause more than worth walking for, and I hope you’ll join me in this effort.