Marina Jurica: My struggle with Crohn's Disease

The annual fundraiser is Saturday at Woodward Park

FRESNO, California - The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America has its annual fundraiser and walk Saturday.

I wanted to shed some light on what many times is an invisible disease. But not to me; I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease over a decade ago, and through my involvement with CCFA, we are trying to bring an awareness to the issue.

I'll never forget the day when my doctor sat me down and told me I had Crohn's Disease. I realized I knew very little about the disease and even less about how my life was about to change. For 12 years now, the road has been filled with ups and downs -- like many, we feel this disease has made us stronger, determined to make a difference and leave a footprint behind to help others in this path.

"I'm really happy how it changed me in a positive way," said Claire Jarimishian, who was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at age 10.

Jarimishian is the honored hero at the Crohn's and Colitis Walk on Saturday and is a true inspiration to those in the Valley suffering from irritable bowel disease.

"Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis [UC] are invisible diseases, so you know not many people know about them, and there's not as much research as cancer," Jarimishian said.

The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation is a lifeline for many, including myself. In every new city I am in, I find the local chapter and get involved immediately. They help me get set up with a great doctor and build my local support system which is imperative for anyone with inflammatory bowel disease [IBD].

It's kind of bringing a place together for them to talk about how they've been effected by the illness not only for the patients but for the people around them too who are caring for them.

About 780,000 Americans suffer from Crohn's and colitis.

Being one of those Americans, I find it imperative to educate the community about the disease as well as raise funds for a cure and most importantly come together as a community for support.

So what is Crohn's and colitis you might be asking?

Its a disease where the immune system mistakes beneficial cells and bacteria in your body as harmful and attacks them causing major problems in your gastrointestinal tract.

"The prevalence is actually increasing. Incidents of Crohn's and colitis is actually increasing in the Valley," said Dr. Clifton Huang at Valley Children's Hospital.

Huang is doing research now into combination therapies between specific diets and medications -- and why the Valley has a high number of IBD diagnoses in children.

"For reasons that I cannot yet explain, we do see that there is for every Crohn's we do diagnose there's one UC patient, but on the other hand our Hispanic population 65 percent actually present at or below the age of 10," Huang said.

Jarimishian is assisting Huang with this research and participating in the study as well. Her experience has inspired her to go to medical school and become a gastroenterologist.

"A lot of new therapies are coming out through diet or treating it through diet which is great because you don't want to take medications," Jarimishian said. "Its better the natural route."

It hasn't always been an easy road. As a student at UC Davis and an athlete on the tennis team, the stress of her school workload, training, and tennis matches made her Crohn's flare up continuously.

"It was uncontrollable, and it ultimately led me to have to resign from the tennis team which was pretty hard to comprehend because that was something I had grown up with all my life," Jarimishian said. "But with my family and my faith, and all the support that I had, it ended up being OK, and I actually turned it around into a positive and used that experience to be a patient advocate."

The walk to raise money and awareness is on Saturday at Woodward Park. Registration is at 1 p.m., and the walk begins at 2 p.m.

For more information, go to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation website.

Marina Jurica is KGPE-TV's Chief Meteorologist.

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