Kate Moskowitz was still in diapers when she diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that would change her life. Not many people have heard of Crohn’s disease, and there’s no one-size-fits-all method of treatment.
Kate, now 5, has already been through more than most other children her age. She’s been hospitalized, gets injections every two weeks and has a strict diet.
“When Kate was diagnosed at 2, it hit us like a ton of bricks,” said Kate’s mother, Nicole Moskowitz.
Crohn’s is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can affect a person’s entire digestive tract, including the mouth. And sadly, there is no cure. Kate’s immune system attacks her gastrointestinal system, killing off healthy, unoffending bacteria. Over the years, theories and research propose genetics, hereditary and/or environmental factors may contribute to the cause.
The signs and symptoms are not cut and dry, either. When Kate became sick, her parents thought it was the stomach flu.
Even though Kate’s family was already familiar with Crohn’s (Nicole’s mother and Kate’s father, Ryan, both have it), “I’ve never heard of anyone being diagnosed that young,” Nicole said. “I think it made her feel better that Daddy has it. She felt comfort knowing it wasn’t completely foreign.”
Most parents are in the dark when they hear the stunning news. It’s also not uncommon to leave doctor appointments even more frustrated and confused about Crohn’s, as not every case is the same.
Symptoms range from more drastic ones such as blood in the stool and frequent diarrhea to mouth ulcers that are commonly mistaken for canker sores.
But as a parent, if you sense something isn’t right, go with your gut and seek answers.
Nicole and Ryan knew special testing would be required to give them answers about Kate, especially considering their family history, so they were particular in choosing a pediatrician. Simple routine lab work wouldn’t cut it. Diagnosing IBD requires extensive familiarity and dedication from the doctor and family to do the required procedures.
“The last thing the doctor wants to do is an endoscopy on a 2-year-old,” Ryan said. “Our being proactive with the pediatrician allowed for a rapid, aggressive diagnosis.”
Kate’s parents knew they had to be aggressive with their demands to prevent Kate from undergoing extensive and unnecessary tests that often lead to food allergy, irritable bowel syndrome or Celiac disease diagnoses. While no parent wants to see their child undergo a colonoscopy (a procedure that typically isn’t given to people younger than 50 but is the most effective means of diagnosing Crohn’s), they knew it had to be done.
Nicole and Ryan knew Kate would also need emotional support, so they reached out to a national nonprofit, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. Since 1967, the CCFA has been dedicated to finding a cure. It provides funding for medical institutions and educates the public and IBD community.
Kate and her parents formed “Team Kate” for the CCFA’s recent Take Steps fundraiser, where they met other people who shared their struggles. Kate and her family have raised about $6,000 over the years.
“We were new to the whole fundraising thing,” Nicole said. “We were really just so moved by how many people supported us.”
Kate has stood in front of hundreds and accepted awards such as the Crohn’s and Colitis Young Leadership Award of 2012.
“If you don’t volunteer, you don’t get to go up to talk,” Kate said. “Talking to people isn’t scary or brave.”
Kate’s next fundraiser will take place Nov. 10 at City Place in West Palm Beach. And she is the CCFA Honored Hero for the upcoming Team Challenge Miami ING Half Marathon on Jan. 27, 2013. Nicole will be representing Kate. She has already raised $2,500, surpassing her goal of $1,800.
“It’s so amazing how people just support you,” Nicole said. “So many people who know Kate … want her to be better.”
If Kate could roller-skate the half-marathon in her pink and purple skates, she would. Instead, she’ll be standing at the finish line cheering on her mom.
“You know what I’m going to scream,” Kate said. “Go Mommy!”
Dr. Maria Abreu, M.D., chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Miami, is a Florida board member for the CCFA. She is on its Research Initiatives and National Research and Clinical Conference committees.
“I believe in a good therapist,” Abreu said. “Cognitive behavioral therapy for the individual and openness in families.”
Abreu believes the children of our generation will see a cure for Crohn’s disease.
“There are more kids getting diagnosed at an early age,” Abreu said. “I think they have a higher burden of genes, and there must be something in our environment triggering this.”
Kate continues learning and growing each day with Crohn’s disease. She doesn’t fight the treatment and overcomes the obstacles that come with her disease.
“I’m proud of myself, actually,” Kate said.
Particularly in children and teens, Crohn’s can weaken bones, delay puberty and decrease growth rate. According to the CCFA, 150,000 are younger than 18, and 94,000 people in Florida are living with IBD.
The symptoms of Crohn’s Disease are similar among children and adults. Medical care should be sought if any of these symptoms persist:
- Abdominal cramping
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
- Mouth ulcers
- Urgent need to move bowels
Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Florida Chapter, http://www.ccfa.org/chapters/florida/
Cleveland Clinic Florida, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/florida/default.aspx
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov
Living With Crohn’s Disease, www.livingwithcrohnsdisease.com