Free and Clear: A Young Woman's Struggle with Ulcerative Colitis

MADISON - This past June, Katie Hopwood something she wouldn't have been able to do three months earlier.


She stood up as a bridesmaid in her brother's wedding in Pontiac, Ill.


Over the previous three years, Hopwood had trouble standing-or doing much of anything else-for any length of time at all. At age 17, she had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a painful and debilitating chronic inflammation of the colon that often leaves its sufferers doubled over in pain and rushing to the bathroom several times an hour.


For Hopwood, a three-sport athlete with a bright future and an active lifestyle, managing the pain and bloody diarrhea quickly became a nightmare. After years of trying to find a medicine that would control her symptoms, the disease flared up last Thanksgiving.


"I was going to the bathroom all the time again," recalls Hopwood, who's now 21. "My colitis even started messing with nerves in my legs and stomach. When my doctor did the colonoscopy, it was awful. He would touch the lining of my colon and it would begin to bleed."


In March of this year, she was referred to UW Hospital and Clinics, where Bruce Harms, MD, and Charles Heise, MD, two of the surgeons who anchor UW Health's colon and rectal surgery program, used a minimally invasive approach to remove Katie's inflamed colon and reconstruct her lower small intestine into a pouch allowing her to eliminate normally. The medical term for the surgery is laparoscopic restorative proctocolectomy, and UW Hospital is one of the only locations in the state that offers the procedure.


During the recovery period-generally 6-8 weeks-patients use a temporary external pouch, which eventually is removed in a second "takedown" surgery. In Hopwood's case, she only used a bag for two weeks.


"For the right patient, this procedure can really allow a return to a normal life, free of pain and discomfort," says Dr. Heise, who notes that UW Health has done well over 100 such surgeries over the last six years, and has published one of the larger series involving this minimally invasive approach. "Plus, the pain after surgery is significantly less-as is the size of the scar."


The laparoscopic procedure only requires four one-centimeter or less incisions, and the only visible scar is tiny and located in the lower abdomen, similar to an old-fashioned appendix incision. Now, she's back to normal. She can travel anywhere without having to worry about the location of the nearest bathroom. This fall, Hopwood began training to become a radiologic technician at a community college near her home in Rockford, Ill., another something she couldn't have done pre-surgery.


"I can eat anything I want," she says with a smile. "I can do anything I want."


Ulcerative colitis affects nearly half a million people in the United States. A form of inflammatory bowel disease, the condition is most frequently diagnosed in early adulthood or after age 50. Thanks to the surgeons at UW Health, there's now one less sufferer.


"I feel like a totally different person. I'm healthier and I have so much more energy," Hopwood says.


Video: Katie and Her Doctors


Date Published: 11/05/2009

News tag(s):  wellnesspatientsbruce a harmscharles p heisedigestive health

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