Crohn's can't stop Lukas

Plagued with debilitating gastrointestinal issues in the fall of 2012, Lukas was just 8 years old when diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. His clinical course led the family to UNC Children’s and a remarkable recovery.

Crohn's can't stop Lukas click to enlarge Lukas at his recent martial arts demonstration and promotion.

Nine-year-old Lukas leads the busy life during the summertime: camp, tennis lessons, swimming at the pool and a planned trip to celebrate a great-grandmother's 90th birthday. To see him, one would never guess he has Crohn's disease.

Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), affects about half a million Americans, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of them children.

Plagued with persistent fatigue, daily fevers, and debilitating gastrointestinal issues in the fall of 2012, Lukas was just 8 years old when diagnosed with Crohn’s. Ultimately, his clinical course led the family to UNC Children’s Ajay Gulati, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist specializing in the care of children with IBD.

"It’s not exactly clear why kids like Lukas get Crohn’s disease," says Gulati. “We suspect certain people have a genetic susceptibility to the disease, and then are exposed to a 'trigger' that causes their immune system to fight their normal intestinal bacteria."

Crohn's may affect any region of the digestive tract but the most common area involved is the last part of the small intestine, the terminal ileum. The region becomes inflamed causing cramps, pain, and diarrhea. There is no cure, but with the appropriate treatment—often a combination of medications, diet, and sometimes surgery—patients with Crohn’s can lead a robust life.

"IBD tends to present more severely in children than in adults," explains Gulati. "We treat it aggressively so that our patients can meet their important growth and development milestones before this window of opportunity closes."

In Lukas' case, treatment has meant adhering to a strict, formula-based liquid diet for months at a time.

"He's had a remarkable recovery, one which even his physicians have commented upon," says Lukas’ mother, Julie. "His blood tests all look good, and he's even gaining weight."

"Not only has Lukas followed his treatment plan to the letter, but he hasn’t let having Crohn’s slow him down," comments Gulati.

Now in remission, Lukas has started eating solid food again but in limited amounts.  "I'd say 70 percent of his calories still come from liquid food," says mom, Julie. "We'll keep adding solid food when he wants it and looking for healthy foods he likes."

Lukas' increased vigor enables him visit the pool most days, and he's been thinking of joining a swim team. He's taking tennis lessons and plans to take part in a wilderness camp later this summer. He's also moving up in the ranks in his martial arts discipline of Ninjutsu and will soon test for his red belt.

"He's got a great summer ahead of him, and he's looking forward to his 10th birthday in September," says Julie.

Adds Gulati, "He’s a real role model and the reason behind his own recovery."


Learn more about the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology >>

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