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Living with Crohn's disease

There's no cure for Crohn's disease, but inflammatory bowel disease experts help patients manage their condition

December 17, 2013

Throughout his childhood, Cary Goronkin watched his father struggle with Crohn’s disease, an immune-system disorder marked by painful and debilitating inflammation of the intestines. It eventually disabled him and forced him into retirement in his early 40s.

“There’s no way I’m going to allow that to happen to me,” a teenage Goronkin told himself. He began studiously avoiding the heavy, fatty foods and roughage that seemed to coincide with his father’s flare-ups.

But by his late 20s, he, too, began experiencing the waves of abdominal pain and distension that characterize Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) whose cause is unknown but can run in families. Doctors helped him control it with medications for many years until lesions from the inflammation forced him to have surgery to remove part of his small intestine at age 42.

Cary and Catherine Goronkin

When Goronkin moved his family from Seattle to Fullerton in 2010 to launch a new career as a restaurateur, he’d been symptom-free for eight years. But in spring 2012, episodic intestinal pain and blockages sent him to Dr. Nimisha Parekh, director of the UCI Health Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program.

“Based on his history and his description of symptoms — intermittent abdominal pain and bloating, occurring every six to seven weeks — I suspected he had a stricture, or a narrowing of his bowel,” said Parekh, who immediately put him on a low-residue, low-fiber diet of mostly soft foods.

A series of tests, including a colonoscopy and a CT scan, pinpointed the site of the stricture on April 4, 2012. The following day, Parekh had Goronkin meet with colorectal surgeon Dr. Steven Mills, her colleague in the IBD program. Twelve days later, Mills removed small sections of Goronkin’s small and large intestine to clear the blockage caused by scar tissue at the site of his first procedure nearly 10 years earlier.

Cary Goronkin at restaurant 250 jpg

Goronkin’s recovery took a few months. In early summer, he set off on a 300-mile motorcycle trip. “I probably pushed it a little too much, but it felt good to be out again, leading a normal life,” he said.

He also resumed regular walks with his wife, Catherine, and oversight of Pita Jungle, the restaurant he co-owns in Newport Beach. Its Mediterranean-style fare is just the kind of healthy, low-fat food that helps keep symptoms of Crohn’s disease at bay — along with regular visits to Parekh and anti-inflammatory medications.

“It’s an exciting time for Crohn’s patients,” Parekh said. “There are probably 20 news drugs in the pipeline. We’re now able to target different parts of the inflammatory cascade to get a more targeted response.”

Goronkin, now 52, knows there is no cure for Crohn’s disease and that he may need surgery again in another 10 years. He’s OK with that.

“As long as I have a capable, competent team at UC Irvine — Dr. Parekh and Dr. Mills — managing my health,” he said, “maybe surgery is delayed a little longer or isn’t needed at all.”

— Kristina Lindgren, UCI Health Marketing & Communications