Part 1: A Dark Road

October 27th, 2018 by Kaitlyn Patterson

By Collin Snyder, Team Athletic Mentors cyclist

On the first Saturday in November, I will line up for the most important race of my life. I’ve raced Iceman every year for about a decade but this year will be different. I know for a fact, I will not even be close to my results of last year, however this will be my biggest victory ever.

Alice and I on the top step for Single Speed at Iceman in 2017 after finishing 2nd in wave 1

One thing most people don’t know about me is back in 2012, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It’s an autoimmune disease that attacks the digestive tract, and can ravage an otherwise healthy body. That year, I had a bad attack, known as a flare, lost a ton of weight and strength which forced me into the hospital for a few weeks. When I eventually got back on the bike, I had to step back from 100 miler MTB races and temporarily move down a category on the road. However, I got on the right medications, and eventually returned to a normal life. I was symptom free for six years, however good things sometimes must come to an end. This April, I started to have GI issues after taking an antibiotic for a chest infection. After I finished the prescription, I figured the issues would go away. They didn’t.

For the next three months, my symptoms kept getting worse. My GI doctor started giving me stronger and stronger meds, but nothing seemed to help. By late June, it was hard to be focused at work as I would have to stop what I was doing nearly every 20 minutes to run to the bathroom. On 6/22, my anniversary, I had had enough. I called my GI doc and he said to come into my local hospital to receive IV steroids. Steroids are used as a strong immunosuppressant to keep my body from attacking itself. During my last flare, these were the magic bullet and stopped my symptoms nearly instantly. This time around, I wasn’t so fortunate. For the next two weeks they kept loading me up with steroids with little success. I was eventually discharged on July 3rd with nearly the same symptoms that I came in. Five days later, I woke up with a fever of 103.8F and told my wife it was time to go to University of Michigan to see their GI specialist.

After some imaging and analysis of my past medical history, the team at U of M re-diagnosed me with Ulcerative Colitis or UC. In the grand scheme of things, this is a slightly better diagnosis because UC can essentially be cured by surgery while with Crohn’s, a diseased organ can be removed only to have the disease pop up somewhere else in the digestive tract.  

For the next two weeks, they did everything they could. At first, things were looking promising.  I was given a super powerful drug (at nearly $20,000 a dose) and some of my blood tests started to improve. There was talk of discharging me the following week and they decided to give me one more dose of this drug for good measure. However, the day before my second dose, my blood markers started to go south again. The second dose did nothing. The team repeated some imaging and came to me with some devastating news. The medical and surgical team sat down with somber faces and said I had exhausted all medicine options. They had given me two doses of their biggest guns and imaging showed zero improvement. There was nothing left except for surgery. They would remove my entire large intestines and give me a temporary end ileostomy which means an external bag. I held it together for 2/3rds of the consultation, then I broke down in tears.

I knew that this would result in a cure, however, I was terrified of all the limitations this would lead to.

The day before surgery

For the past 12 years, my life has revolved around cycling and I couldn’t comprehend how those could coexist. The number one reason why people with this surgery end up back in the hospital is due to dehydration. With a healthy body, dehydration is already a constant concern when racing. On the family front, I have two toddlers and I worried how this would affect play time, and even how they saw me. Would I still be their superhero?

 

Check back tomorrow for the next chapter of my story.

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