Special events planner Paige Calvert Ennis, now age 40 and living in Boston, was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 28. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease that has symptoms that may include bleeding with bowel movements, abdominal pain, bloating or diarrhea. However, Paige continued to live a fast-paced lifestyle—eating whatever she wanted and working long hours—and by her mid 30s she found herself planning her life around the nearest bathroom. During the worst of times, she needed to visit the bathroom at least 100 times a day. There was no way she could leave the house. "It was all so very debilitating," remembers Paige.
Then, at age 36, while serving in New Hampshire as an advance person for the re-election campaign for President Clinton, she collapsed. Paige was immediately flown back to Washington, DC, on Air Force One and rushed to George Washington University Hospital. At 5'7", Paige was a mere 125 pounds-20 pounds under her regular weight. She was bleeding frequently and her entire colon was ulcerated.
During this moment of crisis, she remembers being calmed at the hospital by her colorectal surgeon, Bruce Orkin, MD. "He spoke to me matter of factly and said, 'We're going to deal with this'," recalls Paige. "I'm a little biased toward Dr. Orkin, because his surgery saved my life. He explained the procedure to me and didn't walk out of my room until he had answered all my questions." In addition to being proficient in general surgery, colorectal surgeons like Dr. Orkin have specialized training, knowledge, and surgical skills specifically relating to problems of the colon, rectum, anus, and small bowel.
To treat Paige, Dr. Orkin performed an ileoanal procedure, which involved the removal of her entire large intestine, but saving the anal muscles. The last part of the small intestine was made into a "J-pouch," which serves as a new rectum and is attached to the anal canal. The ileoanal or "pelvic pouch" procedure is a recent advance in colorectal surgery that enables ulcerative colitis patients to avoid having a permanent external ileostomy bag, which is attached to the outside of the body and collects stool. Instead, they receive a temporary loop ileostomy until their "J pouch" has healed. This operation allows them to have almost normal bowel movements with good control and leads to a high quality of life.
The operation took place in May, and by July Paige was working for the Olympics, coordinating all Olympic soccer events in the Washington area. "The surgery changed my life," described Paige. "I've always been an athlete, but during the eight years between when I was diagnosed at 28 to age 36 (when I had my operation), I suffered a lot of fatigue. I caught colds frequently and suffered canker sores in my mouth. I contracted a lot of infections—ear, eye, vaginal. I have none of these now."
Initially, Paige had annual postsurgery check-ups with Dr. Orkin; now she sees him once every two years. In addition, she eats a special diet, takes nutritional supplements, exercises, and keeps her stress under control. Down from an excruciating 100 trips to the bathroom a day at her worst, her post-operative frequency is about four bowel movements a day.
Married in March 2000, Paige and her new husband have started their own special events business. "My life is great now," remarks Paige, who actively speaks about her illness and surgery in order to both inform and increase public awareness. "The best thing for people to do when they have the disease of ulcerative colitis is to become as well educated about it as possible."