Healthy Living

Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Haven’t Stopped This Teen Athlete

Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Haven’t Stopped This Teen Athlete

For Hutchinson, Minnesota teen Kendall Markovic, it was more than just another soccer game: The community and her teammates had rallied up support for this senior team co-captain.

In most ways, Kendall is just a normal teenager with a yearn and capacity for sports. In addition to soccer, Kendall also plays on two girls’ ice hockey teams. For her last semester of high school, she has been named senior team captain for one of those teams as well. Plus, she’s also a youth hockey official.

But, there is something different about Kendall: She has Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). And, she faces them with the same can-do attitude she applies to sports.

Kendall was diagnosed with the conditions at around age 15. The diseases are chronic and incurable, but they can be managed with medication and diet, plus surgery if necessary.

In spite of these conditions, Kendall is a well-rounded kid who just happens to have a bowel disorder.

More about IBD

Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are two variants of a condition called Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). If you have either (or even both) of these conditions, you are aware of the challenges IBD brings to everyday life. Many people have to completely alter their lifestyle and eating habits.

We learn that young people with Crohn’s, like Kendall, have episodic outbreaks. In between these episodes, the adolescent or teen may be in remission for even years before symptoms recur. But, there’s no rhyme or reason to the outbreaks; there’s no way to anticipate when the disease will strike again (WedMD).

By having both Crohn’s and UC, the demands on Kendall’s body are two-fold.

Everyday Health clarifies “they are two distinct diseases that need to be treated differently.” We are told the three main differences between Crohn’s and UC are:

  • Contrasting symptoms: With Crohn’s, symptoms include severe belly pain, weight loss, nausea and vomiting. Also, occasional rectal bleeding and diarrhea. With UC, there’s loss of appetite, frequent diarrhea containing bloody mucus, belly pain, and the strong urge to move your bowels, often without success.
  • Where inflammation occurs: Crohn’s can occur anywhere in the GI tract; UC affects the colon (large intestine).
  • Diagnostic Testing: A colonoscopy with biopsy is useful in diagnosing both Crohn’s and UC. With Crohn’s, patches of healthy tissues are mixed in with sections of inflamed tissue. In UC, the inflamed tissues start at the rectum and continue upward. Also, Crohn’s includes clusters of cells called granulomas, while UC does not.

As Kendall was diagnosed at a young age, she has the childhood form of IBD.

For Crohn’s disease, ages 15 to 30 are the most common years for diagnosis. For a teen with Crohn’s, developmental issues may be adversely affected: It can “stunt growth, weaken bones, and delay puberty” (WebMD).
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, (CFFA) “studies have shown that 5 to 20 percent of those with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis have either a parent, child, or sibling with one of the diseases” (Research has not yet confirmed the link).

Hardships of IBD for teens

For the young person with IBS, self-esteem and social-acceptance issues intermix with the physical hardships attached to the disease. These factors place the child at risk for isolation from his/her peers. Emotional support for the youngster with IBS is a must.

Regarding Kendall’s story, The Hutchinson Leader fills us in:

Kendall’s initial symptoms of IBS arrived fast and furious. Kendall says her belly hurt so much that she “couldn’t move.” She was at ice-hockey practice at the time. “It just came out of the blue,” she said.

Initially, it was suspected that Kendall had an acute case of appendicitis. However, more tests showed she had cysts in her belly. An eventual transfer to the Mayo Clinic gave her the specialty care she needed.

It was there that Kendall learned most people with Crohn’s require surgery during the first five years of diagnosis. This surgery can become necessary to remove sections of bowel that become ulcerated, bloodied and damaged.

Following Kendall’s initial episode, she was put on a medication which kept her symptom-free for about 18 months. However, that medication lowered her immunity and led to a “nasty battle” with psoriasis and body cysts.

Kendall now takes an anti-rejection med given to those with organ transplants. The effectiveness of this drug in treating Crohn’s is tied to its ability to prevent the body’s destruction of healthy cells (i.e.: the mucus layers of the GI tract). She additionally takes a prescription for her skin due to her issues with psoriasis.

The effects on Kendall

Kendall says she considers herself to be fortunate that she hasn’t needed any surgeries to remove damaged sections of intestine, and she’s been able to keep up her strength while maintaining her busy practice and game schedule.

In speaking of Kendall and her health issues in the Hutchinson Leader, her coach, Mike Jacobsen has said, “Kendall has been battling this disease for a number of years, but was finally diagnosed three years ago. Since then she has been trying various medications to control episodes”.

He continues, “Through all of this trial she has been a steady team member and student. She has gone through a lot of adversity in her lifetime and has always exhibited a positive attitude and outlook on life.”

This young lady has her sights held high: She wants to play collegiate hockey or officiate high school and college hockey, perhaps even on the international level.

Donation to the CCF

Recently, the local and sports communities joined forces with Kendall in hosting a Crohn’s awareness event. For her part, Kendall designed shirts for sale; they were emblazoned with the “Crohn’s Takes Guts” slogan. (The purple shirts matched the same hue of the disease’s commemorate ribbon.)

There was also a bake sale, raffle of locally-donated items, and a free-will offering. The event netted $650 in research funds for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

Kudos to Kendall for her attitude, team spirit, and persistence.