Tomie Lafond, 24, of Hatfield says she thought she was perfectly healthy until she started getting stomach pains. “I took it easy and tried to work through it,” she says, “but after a week, the pains didn’t go away; in fact they got worse. I knew something wasn’t right. I called my primary care doctor and he told me to go to the Emergency Department.”
Lafond went to Baystate Medical Center’s Emergency Department thinking she might have appendicitis. She says she was very nervous. “It was a long day for me and my family, but everyone was committed to getting me better. That’s what people are looking for when they’re not at their best: comfort in knowing that someone else cares. Every provider went out of their way to keep me comfortable, informed, and happy. In fact, they went above and beyond considering the number patients they were caring for. Their attention to detail was amazing.”
Lafond was admitted and learned she had a severe infection caused by Crohn’s disease, a condition she didn’t even know she had.
“When I met Dr. James Mark Kiely, and the rest of the surgery team, I couldn’t have asked for better care,” she says. “I’m the type of patient who likes to know everything about my condition. Dr. Kiely even drew a diagram so I knew exactly what was going on and exactly what he would be doing. This left me with no questions. Talk about comforting.”
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the walls of the intestine. Symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhea, which is sometimes bloody, and weight loss.
Kiely, a colorectal surgeon, says Crohn’s disease is typically diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35 years. “However, by the time her symptoms brought her to the hospital,” he says, “she was in pain, had a severe infection, and was malnourished, which is less typical. In fact, her lower intestine was abscessed – so infected that, later after she recovered from the acute episode, it required us to remove part of her small and large bowel.”
A Small Miracle
About the surgery, Lafond says, “I was nervous at first, but the whole Baystate team kept me informed every step of the way.”
The surgery involved removing the end portion of her small bowel where it meets the large bowel and joining the two ends back together. “This sometimes is not possible during an emergency situation or severe malnutrition,” says Kiely, “but Tomie was able to slowly improve to a point where I felt that this would be possible and safe, so an ostomy was avoided. In addition, a minimally invasive approach was used which made her recovery faster.”
Kiely reports that Lafond responded very well to treatments and resumed her life as normal, with virtually no dietary restrictions. “She requires long-term medication to lessen the chance of the disease coming back, and I am indebted to my gastroenterology colleague, Dr. Joanna Sampson of Western Mass GI Associates, for her help in managing this crucial component of her care,” he says.
“Dr. Kiely achieved results I didn’t even think were possible,” says Lafond. “I am beyond relieved and extremely happy for the expert care I received. In my eyes, Dr. Kiely and his team performed a small miracle. He gave me my life back. Words can’t express how thankful I am.”
One Year Later
“It’s been a year since that day in the emergency room,” says Lafond, “and even now if I have a question or concern, I can call and they get me right in and fix it. At one point during my care, I was texting Dr. Kiely’s nurse, Stash, every day with questions and he always got right back to me.”
She continues, “Thanks to the great providers at Baystate, I know what I need to do to keep myself healthy. They not only taught me all about my disease, but how to manage it the rest of my life. Words can’t express how thankful I am for their compassion and excellence.”
Fast Facts about Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease shares many symptoms with other IBDs and autoimmune disorders, which can make diagnosis challenging. “There isn’t just one test to check for Crohn’s,” says Kiely. “You need a few tests to properly diagnose and rule out other health issues.”
He adds, “Crohn’s can range from mild to severe; it can come on slowly or suddenly without warning.”
Symptoms may include:
• Belly pain or cramping that doesn’t go away
• Anemia from low iron levels caused by bloody stools or intestinal inflammation
• Fever from possible abscess/infection
• Loss of weight/appetite or malnutrition caused by diarrhea
People who experience any of these symptoms should talk to their primary care provider about possible testing or a referral to a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon.
Treatment varies depending on the severity of the disease, but may include:
• Diet and supplemental nutritional program
• Medication to stop the inflammation and prevent flare-ups
• Lifestyle changes including exercise and stress reduction to normalize bowl function
• Surgery if an infection or complications develop that can’t be treated medically
Colorectal surgeons Drs. James Kiely, Kelly Tyler, and Ziad Kutayli see patients at Baystate General Surgery at 2 Medical Center Drive in Springfield, adjacent to Baystate Medical Center; and at the Baystate Outpatient Center, 325 King Street, Northampton. For more information or to schedule an appointment at either location, call 413-794-7020.