By the time John Hume, now 48, reached MedStar Georgetown University Hospital by ambulance, “I was a cascading catastrophe,” he recalls. Diagnosed and treated by his family doctor for a mild case of ulcerative colitis, John had seen his condition quickly progress to a critical point with an uncertain outcome. He needed immediate expert attention.
Ulcerative colitis is just one of a group of diseases known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation and sores— ulcers—in the lining of the rectum and colon. The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain and frequent bloody diarrhea. Weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite and joint pain are other common symptoms.
According to Aline Charabaty, MD, director of the MedStar Georgetown Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, ulcerative colitis affects the body’s immune system, specifically in the gut and colon. Organisms and bacteria in the gut can act as triggers and lead to chronic inflammation. Other potential triggers include certain medications and a western diet and lifestyle.
“When I first met John, he was dehydrated, had dangerously low blood pressure and was experiencing severe abdominal pain,” Dr. Charabaty recalls. “He was having more than seven to eight bloody bowel movements a day.
His colonoscopy revealed severe inflammation of the colon, nearly the worst I’d ever seen. And he had lost 60 pounds in less than three months.”
Dr. Charabaty often treats patients with unusually severe IBD symptoms that require personalized treatment considerations. “We have many skilled IBD specialists with a wide range of experience and, because of our research program, access to new medications and clinical trials that aren’t available at other hospitals,” says Dr. Charabaty.
Guided by her experience, Dr. Charabaty prescribed Remicade, an immunosuppressant medication used to treat severe ulcerative colitis symptoms. She tested dosage and timing of the medication with John until his body began to respond— an innovative and personalized approach at the time; it is now a standard course of treatment. “We needed to control the severe inflammation quickly or John was headed for colectomy, or surgical removal of part or all of his colon,” she recalls.
Dr. Charabaty made me feel like I was the most important person in the world during my treatment.
John hume, Patient
“It was such a trying time for me, even beyond the stress of the flare-ups and my physical weakness,” says John. “Dr. Charabaty worked hard to determine the best treatment option for me.”
“Our goal is to unburden them and their families by working as a team to help patients take charge of their disease,” says Dr. Charabaty. “John was amazing. He had a very positive attitude despite the severity of his symptoms.”
“It’s hard living with a chronic disease like ulcerative colitis, but I feel really lucky,” John says. A federal employee from Mechanicsville, Md., he now works a modified schedule and has adjusted his diet to manage his weight and symptoms. And he is determined to educate others about ulcerative colitis.
“Dr. Charabaty made me feel like I was the most important person in the world during my treatment,” he recalls. “And I still get a hug when I see her for follow-up care. My wife, Judy, and I consider Dr. Charabaty part of our family.”