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Young woman hopes to raise awareness about Crohn’s disease

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Sophie Eisen

At age 11, Sophie Eisen, a resident of Thornhill, Ont., was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that is treatable, but has no cure.

For six weeks, she couldn’t eat solid foods and was attached to a feeding tube that provided her with essential nutrients.

Crohn’s typically develops in people between the ages of 15 and 35. Eisen was diagnosed at a very young age. She wasn’t growing like her friends and had abdominal pains, which sometimes prevented her from going to school.

Now, at age 17, Eisen has her Crohn’s under control. Currently she receives biologic infusions, which are antibodies that stop certain proteins from provoking inflammation in the stomach, or wherever the Crohn’s is active.

When people with Crohn’s experiences a flare up, their symptoms become active. These symptoms can include abdominal pain, frequent bathroom trips, weight loss, bloating, cramping, fatigue and internal bleeding. Treatments may help control the disease, but the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is impacted long-term.

Eisen plans to attend York University’s biomedical science program in September. Her IBD largely influenced the direction of her undergraduate studies.

READ: CROHN’S AND COLITIS – IN SEARCH OF A CURE FOR A ‘JEWISH’ DISEASE

“My experience with Crohn’s has … inspired my interest in biology and science as a whole,” Eisen said.

Yet her determination to improve the lives of people with Crohn’s and find a cure goes beyond her education. This year, Eisen is the local honorary chair of the York Region Gutsy Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis, which takes place at Richmond Green Park in Richmond Hill, Ont., on June 3.

Gutsy Walk is Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s signature fundraising event, which is held at over 60 locations across the country. The organization raises awareness about the disease, helps advocate to government officials and stakeholders on behalf of those affected by Crohn’s and colitis, and funds research to improve treatments and find a cure.

“Crohn’s and Colitis are invisible conditions. So outwardly, it can be challenging to tell sometimes whether a person has an IBD. I want to bring more visibility and awareness to these diseases,” Eisen said.

She will be speaking about her experiences and her involvement with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada during the Gutsy Walk event.

Last September, Eisen started volunteering at Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, to further educate herself on the disease, give back to the organization and help others who suffer from Crohn’s.

Eisen’s family is of Ashkenazic descent, a population that was found to be two to four times more likely to suffer from Crohn’s than the general population. In 2012, a study published in the journal PLOS identified five genetic mutations that make Ashkenazim more susceptible to the disease.

Despite this research, Crohn’s remains a disease that is not well understood. Eisen hopes that fundraising events like Gutsy Walk and advocates like herself will eventually lead to improved treatment methods and, ultimately, a cure.