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Taking back her life


Fri, Feb 8th, 2013
Posted in Chatfield Health & Wellness

Brandy Allen of Chatfield changed her life to recover from Crohn’s Disease. Photo submitted

Brandy Allen found out she had Crohn’s Disease in 2008, but she had been suffering long before then. She had been experiencing crippling stomach pains and had been in and out of emergency rooms and hospitals.

“It felt like somebody was stabbing me,” Brandy described.

Doctors ran multiple tests and gave her antibiotics, trying to get her to feel better. Eventually she was referred to a doctor at the Mayo Clinic who diagnosed her with Crohn’s.

Crohn’s Disease is inflammation, and affects the entire digestive system, from mouth to anus. This inflammation can cause a lot of misery, including pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and damage. It is caused when the body’s immune system fights the digestive system for some reason. Most people have problems with their intestines.

The doctor gave her medication to suppress her immune system and to try to get any bacteria under control so her body would stop fighting itself. The meds didn’t help her a lot at first.

Brandy graduated from Fillmore Central High School in 2005. While in college at the University of Minnesota, she had serious problems with acid reflux, which could have been from the Crohn’s.

“They don’t know why people get it,” said Brandy. “They know it’s heredity, but in my case there is nobody that I can trace it back to. It’s partially environmental. Also, when stress levels are higher the disease gets worse.”

After her intitial diagnosis, Brandy went on with her life, but she was still far from normal. Her pain got significantly worse, and she was put on IV’s to control it. In January of 2009, she awoke in the middle of the night and collapsed from the pain. She told her husband Andrew that she needed to go to the hospital. She was there for more than 12 hours, in and out of consciousness from the pain, before they finally admitted her. It turned out the disease had eaten through her intestines, and she would have to have surgery.

Brandy said they first thought they could do the surgery laporoscopically, but the damage was too extensive. She now has a huge scar on her abdomen from when they removed two feet of her intestine.

The ileum was removed as part of the surgery, the part between the small and large intestine that detoxifies and absorbs nutrients. Since she no longer has this part, she had to take multivitamins and change the way she ate.

In fact, Brandy had to take a look at her entire life and make some permanent changes, or she knew she would never feel better. She now works out five days a week, and has changed her diet completely, which has made all the difference in the world.

Brandy works at Hiawatha Homes and is a grad student right now, so stress and anxiety levels can get high. “Waking up and keeping that structure and working out, I am able to relieve the stresses,” she shared. “You can control all of that through exercise and meditation.”

Without an ileum, the body doesn’t absorb fat, and instead recognizes it as poison and gets rid of it immediately. After eating fried or fatty foods, Brandy would normally be suffering with diarrhea and vomiting for hours on end. For a while she took medication to help combat that effect, but she still spent time every morning being sick.

“I eat 90 percent clean,” she said. “I eat eggs, poultry, all fresh fruits and vegetables, nothing canned and nothing with preservatives. I read labels and try to eat foods with less than five ingredients.”

High fat and high sugar sweets are pretty much out for Brandy, but when she does bake, she lets herself have a few bites. Any more than that, and she knows she will be sick. “The consequences aren’t worth it.”

Grocery shopping and eating out at restaurants are difficult for Brandy and her husband. They don’t go to many restaurants, as there aren’t many that don’t use any preservatives in their cooking. But, Brandy is a very structured and scheduled person, and she pretty much eats the same things every day.

The drastic change in her life has been difficult at times, but it was the right choice.

“I feel like a human being!” she said.

Brandy finds it hard to explain to people just how much her disease took over her life. People with Crohn’s have to know where the bathroom is everywhere they go just in case. They miss out on fun times with friends because they are sick. Children with the disease suffer even more than adults, as they have a hard time absorbing any nutrients. A person’s social life is seriously affected.

“Crohn’s is incurable and unpredictable,” said Brandy. Right now she doesn’t even feel like she has the disease. She spends a lot of time raising money for research and trying to raise awareness of the illness, which she describes as a “silent illness.” Many people are embarassed about their disease, and many people don’t know anything about it. Brandy has chosen to be active in changing that attitude.

“You have the option to feel sorry for yourself, or you have the option of taking what God has given you as an obstacle and finding the good out of it,” she said.

Brandy attends a support group for people with Crohn’s at Methodist Hospital on the first Monday of every month in Dining Room #3. She also helps organize Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis, a walk that will be held May 11 at East Silver Lake Park at 3pm. Individuals and teams can sign up to walk by going to www.cctakesteps.org. If anyone would like any more information about Crohn’s or any of these events, they are welcome to contact Brandy directly at brandyrallen@gmail.com.

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821

8:18:42, Feb 13th 2013

JazzyB says:
Hi Brandy, I feel ya. I am a African American male who contracted Crohn's 5 years ago at age 59. Thank God I too have a family who loves and supports me. My small intestines were affected with severe swelling which prevented regular BM's. I also suffered from diarrhea, vomiting and the worst stomach pain ever. I tried taking Humira (r) for 8 months which didn't help plus the cost was $972.00 a shot even with insurance. I finally accepted the fact that surgery was my best option. So, I had about 15 inches of small intestines removed. So far, so good. I am taking IMURAM (r) which hopefully will control future swelling. Thanks for sharing your story. I will certainly use your suggestions. Take care and stay strong. Sincerely, Jazzy B.