Crohn’s disease is difficult to diagnose, seemingly invisible to others, and never goes away, making it incredibly difficult to deal with.
The chronic disease, suffered by at least 115,000 young Brits and millions more worldwide, remains fairly hidden behind closed doors and undisclosed in the media, partly due to public squeamishness and something known as the ‘poo taboo’.
Kris Chirdon, from Pittsburgh, has had to undergo serious surgery for his Crohn’s but has also managed to make some serious muscle gain, a mean feat in the face of such a life-changing illness.
Kris’s symptoms first started when he was about 16, when he noticed gastro-intestinal issues such as chronic constipation and diarrhoea becoming frequent.
From 17 to 18 years old, he was experiencing severe pain in his upper abdomen, so intense that he couldn’t function while the waves of pain were happening.
Speaking about the pain he experienced, 22-year-old Kris said:
I remember on many occasions dropping to my knees and nearly crying because of how horrible it was.
My appetite was almost non-existent, as the pain would sicken me to the point of not being able to eat more than a few bites of food.
Kris was losing weight so quickly that by the end of high school in 2014, he only weighed 88 pounds (40kg), causing him to be called into the nurses office for fears that he was starving himself.
Crohn’s disease, known as the invisible disease, is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and it was no different for Kris, who visited multiple doctors over the years to try and find out what it was.
Explaining his diagnosis, Kris said:
Finally, my primary care doctor referred me to a gastric specialist and after a colonoscopy in the summer of 2014 I was officially diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Typical first line treatment is usually a simple anti-inflammatory medication, but my gastric specialist said that my case was so severe and progressed that I needed to be immediately placed on medications that are usually reserved for people who have tried other treatments but saw no results.
Shortly after starting medication the symptoms began to disappear entirely and I was back to a healthy weight. For a majority of my time at college in the following years I remained symptom free.
While his symptoms subsided, Kris took the opportunity to start going to the gym bringing his weight up to 135 pounds with a considerable amount of lean muscle.
Unfortunately this period didn’t last forever, and he noticed the return of his symptoms in 2017 and due to the pain and lack of appetite, he lost the weight he’d worked so hard to gain.
Kris didn’t know that the pains he thought were just an ‘occasional flare-up’ were going to result in him having to undergo serious surgery.
Talking about how it ‘escalated’ so quickly, Kris said:
By mid-summer the pain got so bad and escalated so greatly within a matter of weeks – to the point of me not being able to function or even walk normally, as every movement I made would cause pain – that I had to go to the emergency room at my local hospital.
After a CT scan I was made aware that I had a large, inflamed, and bacterially infected abscess in lower abdomen.
I spent the next few days in the hospital on IV antibiotic therapy and had an incredibly painful procedure done to start to drain the abscess and was sent home with oral antibiotics.
Days after returning home, the abscess was back and after another few days and nights in the hospital and another drainage procedure, I was sent home with more antibiotics.
The abscess was recurring, and the doctors came to the conclusion that he would have to have it surgically removed
The abscess was more serious than they originally thought:
Once again, I was back in the hospital and spent almost a week there as they performed many tests and scans to assess the problem more accurately, and it was discovered that it was much more complicated than previously thought.
For one, the abscess was connected to my bladder by something called a fistula, which could do permanent damage to my bladder if not removed.
There was also a stricture at the end of my small intestine that was constricted so much that it could have caused a bowel blockage.
The inflammation in this area as well as a portion of my large intestine was also very serious. The doctors decided that not only did the abscess need to be removed, but also portions of my gut.
Kris had the end of his small intestine and the beginning of his large intestine completely removed, but during the physically painful time of waiting for surgery, his girlfriend of two years broke up with him.
Explaining that he thought she had ‘cheated’ on him, Kris said:
I found out later that she had been talking to and (I strongly assume) cheating on me with another man.
Being at such a low point in my life physically as well as emotionally was the most difficult thing I ever experienced, I was physically sick and heartbroken and there was really nothing I could do about it.
I never knew why she decided to end it all while I was at the lowest point in my life, when I needed her the most.
Regardless, I pressed on and about three long weeks later I went in for the surgery.
Recovery from the surgery was brutal and two weeks after the surgery, Kris took the ‘before’ photo that he posted to Reddit.
He said he was the thinnest he ever was, and was down less than 90 pounds from 135, with all the muscle he had developed over two years completely gone.
With a positive mindset, Kris didn’t give up, but saw it as a ‘blank slate’ to build on. When he recovered from surgery, he did just that and was back in the gym to gain back the weight he had lost.
He was lifting on average five days a week for one to three hours at a time, eating well, supplementing his diet with protein and pushing himself ‘further than ever before’.
By July 2018, Kris was ready to take his ‘after’ photo and proudly posted it to Reddit with hundreds of commenters commending him for his strength and effort.
Now, feeling better than he has ever felt, Kris said he couldn’t be happier with the results he has achieved on his body, and is aware that the complicated ‘probably will happen again’, so is focusing on spotting the signs early to minimise damage to his body.
Kris is an inspiration to anyone dealing with a chronic illness like Crohn’s, and he told us why he has shared his story:
Crohn’s disease, unfortunately, is a chronic illness that will never go away, but I am very hopeful for the future.
I hope people struggling with Crohn’s or other IBD spectrum disorders can relate to my story and possibly feel a little comfort in knowing that others are going through the same issues as they are and have the ability to recover and rebound as I did.
Crohn’s and Colitis UK offer a platform on which you can get information and support to help cope with your IBD, and Lois is determined to dispel the ‘poo taboo’ among young people through social media forums like InstaCrohns.