Colitis Patient is Able To Compete in More Than 20 Triathlons After Receiving Remicade Treatments at UMMC’s IBD Center

By Brendan Wills

I spent years “dealing with” my condition.  I saw specialists in other practices who prescribed different drugs to treat my colitis, but nothing worked.  I was getting sicker and had no energy for the things I enjoyed most — spending time with my family, traveling, and my real passion, competing in triathlons.  In February 2010, I decided I’d had enough and needed to see the best, once and for all.  After doing much research, I contacted Dr. Raymond Cross through the University of Maryland’s Web site, and made an appointment.

My experience with the University of Maryland’s Department of Gastroenterology was great from day one.  Dr. Cross took a complete history of my symptoms, treatments and medications, discussed my options, and came up with a game plan.  In the spring of 2010, after exploring several different medicines, Dr. Cross and I decided on Remicade.  I had my first infusion of Remicade, a drug most commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but which has shown success in treating patients with ulcerative colitis.  That first treatment changed my life, and I haven’t looked back since.

Almost immediately, I felt better than I had in years. I really couldn’t remember the last time I had felt this normal.  I have continued the treatment for almost two years, and can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do without Dr. Cross, his team, and their treatment plan.

Since receiving care from Dr. Cross and starting the Remicade, I have been able to train for and compete in more than 20 triathlons.  In November 2010, not even one year after starting my treatment with Dr. Cross, I completed my first Ironman triathlon.  The Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile marathon.  In the 14 hours it took me to complete that first race, I had a lot of time to think about where I was, compared to where I had been just one short year ago.  A year ago, I was miserable, sick, weak, and unsure of what the future held for me.  Fast-forward nine months, and here I was, having trained over 100 miles swimming, 3000-plus miles biking and 500-plus miles of running to compete in the biggest race of my life.

As my strength and energy have returned, I have been able to train harder and race with no limitations.  On October 29, 2011, I competed in the same Ironman race and finished in 11 hours, 12 minutes, which was over three hours faster than the year before.  Next year, my goal is to go even faster and finish in under 10 hours.

Today, it’s been almost two years since that first appointment with Dr. Cross.  Without the attention and dedication of Dr. Cross and his team, I have no doubt that I would not be able to train for and compete in the triathlons that I love so much. I finally have my life back, and I owe my health to Dr. Cross, his team, and the University of Maryland Department of Gastroenterology.

Avoiding Digestive Health Problems on “Super Sunday” and Beyond

By Raymond Cross. M.D., M.S.
Director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program

Events like Super Bowl parties are fun occasions when we eat our favorite foods and drink our favorite beverages. Unfortunately, situations like this can negatively impact your digestive health. To help prevent adverse digestive health issues, here are some simple  strategies to keep in mind.

Keep up with health maintenance. It is very important that you keep regularly scheduled appointments with your doctor. If you must miss a visit, contact your doctor’s office to schedule another appointment as soon as possible. The simple act of following up with your doctor can improve digestive health.

Mind your medications. It is very important that you maintain a regular schedule for your medications. Missing doses can increase symptoms or complications of digestive disorders.

Battle the bulge. Many foods can worsen digestive symptoms. Beverages or foods that contain alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, peppermint, spearmint, coffee, carbonation, and acidic fruits and vegetables can trigger heartburn or acid reflux. A large intake of fluid and/or salt can cause fluid retention in patients with liver disease. Caffeine, alcohol, dairy products, acidic fruits and vegetables, spicy foods, and foods high in fiber can worsen diarrhea in patients with Crohn’s disease, colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome.  In patients with Crohn’s disease, high-fiber foods, such as uncooked vegetables, and dry, over-cooked meat can trigger a bout of intestinal obstruction (“blockage”). Avoiding or limiting these foods and beverages can prevent symptoms.

Limit your intake of alcoholic beverages. Consumption of alcoholic beverages can worsen heartburn and diarrhea. People with alcohol-induced liver and pancreatic disease are at risk for recurrent symptoms if exposed to even small amounts of alcohol. It is very important that you resist the temptation to drink if you have alcohol-induced liver disease or pancreatic disease. Moderating your intake of alcohol is recommended for patients with heartburn or diarrhea. It can be helpful to avoid situations in which alcoholic beverages play a large part in the celebration (for example, this year’s Super Bowl party!). Involving a sponsor or counselor can help. Of course, never drink and drive!

Don’t overdue it. Stress can have a major impact on digestive diseases. For example, increased stress can trigger a flare in Crohn’s disease, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Try to minimize stress as much as possible. Don’t take on more things than you can handle. Get sufficient sleep.

Know when to self-medicate and when to seek advice. Symptoms from some digestive diseases can be treated with over-the-counter medications. Antacids (for example, Tums and Maalox) and H2 blockers (for example Zantac and Pepcid AC) can be used for breakthrough heartburn symptoms. Imodium can be used to treat diarrhea in irritable bowel syndrome.  To avoid digestive and other health problems, seek advice about over-the-counter-medications and supplements with your doctor before using them.

An ounce of prevention. Monitoring for potential problems is important in digestive health. For patients with cirrhosis, checking body weight daily is very important. An increase of 3 pounds or more can be a sign of fluid overload. Informing your medical provider of such an increase in body weight can prevent an unnecessary visit or hospital stay. Patients with cirrhosis can also experience confusion (hepatic encephalopathy) triggered by excess protein intake. Persistent diarrhea and/or rectal bleeding can be a sign of a flare of Crohn’s disease and colitis. Alert your doctor to these symptoms promptly for appropriate management.