An 11-year-old Yorkton boy is leading the charge to raise awareness of and raise funds for research into two diseases that do not get a lot of public attention, probably because of the private “bathroom” nature of their symptoms.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are autoimmune disorders of the digestive system that cause intestinal tissue to become inflamed, form sores and bleed easily resulting in symptoms including abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue and diarrhea.
Andrew Ross, a St. Michael’s Grade 5 student is honourary chair of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s (CCC) Gutsy Walk in Regina June 8.
Despite his young age, Ross, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s when he was 18 months old, is making a large impact in tearing down the stigma surrounding Crohn’s and colitis. He and his family have raised more than $20,000 over the past five years for CCC. He is very frank about his condition.
“Even as a baby, my mom says I always had diarrhea, sometimes up to 10 to 15 times a day,” he said. “When I was six months old and started eating solid foods, I began to have bloody diarrhea and started losing some weight.”
Today, he takes daily pills and weekly injections to help control his disease.
“It is hard to live with Crohn’s disease because I always have to be close to a washroom and it makes me feel very nervous when I am not,” he said. “Despite this, I still feel very lucky that I can be active and have never had any surgeries or spent long periods of time in the hospital.”
He talks about it to his classmates so that everyone can feel comfortable. He said they are very understanding.
According to CCC, there are more than 233,000 Canadians living with Crohn’s and colitis, about half with each.
In the short term, the organization’s facts sheet says, victims experience serious quality of life issues compared to the general public. In the long term, both Crohn’s and colitis elevate the risk of colorectal cancer and people with Crohn’s also face a significantly elevated risk (47 per cent) of premature death.
Ross hopes to encourage Yorktonites to get involved in the Gutsy Walk either directly by forming their own team to participate in the Regina event or by becoming virtual walkers in the local area. The website is gutsywalk.ca.
His goal for this year is $5,000. People interested in helping can pledge to Ross’s campaign on the website by clicking on the “Pledge Participants” button and searching his name.
Money raised in the province largely stays in Saskatchewan, said Kathryn Gomph, CCC development coordinator for Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut.
The national Gutsy Walk also has a Saskatchewan connection. The national honourary co-chairs are Clay, Rayner and Shylo Frey from Saskatoon. Their team is known as the “Bikini Boys and Lil Sis,” a nickname coined after Clay and Rayner wore embarrassing outfits to the Saskatoon walk one year.
Both parents, Lori Ann and husband Murray Frey suffer from Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. The family has raised more than $93,000 since 2007 and have a goal of surpassing $110,000 this year.