In 2009, Leslie Ewins’ health took a sudden downturn. Her entire digestive tract rebelled, and diarrhea, pain and nausea ruled her daily life. Her nails grew brittle, her hair started falling out, and she battled constant fatigue.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” she says.
So Ewins, a human resources analyst at a local university, underwent a colonoscopy at an Orange County hospital. One doctor read her results and suspected she might have Crohn’s disease — a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — but his colleague disagreed and suggested that Ewins’ symptoms sprang from an eating disorder.
“She thought I was bulimic, but I told her, ‘No, I love to eat. I just can’t keep it all down,’” Ewins says.
Further tests revealed that Ewins was infected with H. pylori, a bacteria often associated with peptic ulcers and IBD. Placed on antibiotics, she temporarily had relief from her symptoms. But the diarrhea, vomiting and cramping soon returned, and for the next four years, worsened until Ewins dropped nearly 50 pounds, going from 160 to 112 pounds in just three months. That’s when her husband insisted they change insurance plans — and health providers.
Seeking expert care
In early 2012, armed with new insurance coverage, Ewins sought care from UCI Health.
The expert team at the H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center (CDDC) provided the first complete diagnosis of her disease along with the care needed to help her successfully manage it.
“When Leslie first came to us, she was having a significant amount of symptoms. After a thorough diagnostic workup and evaluation, we discovered where her symptoms were coming from. Based on that, we used the treatments we have for Crohn’s disease and it benefitted her tremendously,” says her gastroenterologist Dr. Nimisha Parekh, director of the UCI Health Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, Orange County’s only comprehensive program for complex cases of the disease.
An estimated 1.6 million Americans have IBD, an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic inflammation of the intestines and other areas of the digestive tract. Inflammatory bowel disease is divided into two categories — Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. If not properly managed, IBD symptoms — diarrhea, nausea, cramping, fever, weight loss, and fatigue — can take over a person’s life and leave them feeling isolated and discouraged.
There is no cure for the disease, but there is hope. With proper care, patients with IBD can enjoy long, happy, productive lives.
Getting her life back
Ewins’ treatment involved medications (Cimzia® and Humira®) to reduce the inflammation in her esophagus and intestines, lifestyle changes (diet, exercise and meditation) and surgery. She has undergone two bowel resection surgeries to remove diseased tissue and an endoscopic procedure to open a partially blocked section of her upper intestinal tract.
Today she successfully manages her disease with the support of her family, coworkers, and her CDDC medical team.
“I used to have pain that made me double over and days when I couldn’t get out of bed. I missed family activities and social and sporting events. But now, I’m doing so much better,” Ewins says. “Dr. Parekh and her team have done so much for me. I feel like they gave me my life back.”
A team approach
When patients come for care at the UCI Health Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, they don’t just see one doctor but an entire care team:
- Colorectal surgeons
- Nutritional experts
- Social workers
“We often see very complicated cases, and that’s where our team approach really makes the difference. Each team member may pick up a different nuance about a patient, and then as a team we can put everything together,” Parekh says.
“Leslie is a testament to that approach. We used a combined approach of endoscopic dilation, medical therapy and surgery for her management plan. By working together, this really eased her mind and helped her to handle complicated decisions regarding her care.”
Along with expert team care, UCI Health empowers IBD patients through a monthly support group and an annual patient education conference.