Andy Anderson is a 13 year old boy who loves fruits, chocolate and basketball. Looking at him now, you wouldn’t know that he used to get sick during basketball games, use the bathroom more than 20 times a day, or that he’s had three surgeries in the past year to help him feel better.
Andy’s journey began five years ago during a particularly tough time for his family; they had just lost their home in Washington, Illinois to a tornado. Six months later, Andy was suffering with bloody diarrhea. The family first thought this to be a side effect of the antibiotics that Andy was taking for strep throat, but a local pediatrician suspected something more and quickly referred them to Lurie Children’s.
At Lurie Children’s, Andy had a consultation with a pediatric gastroenterologist. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the inner lining of the colon and rectum.
Over a span of 3-4 years, Andy tried multiple courses of pills, steroids and infusions. He’d missed over 50 days of school and was in and out of the hospital. With only one medication left to try, Andy said, “I’m done. I don’t want my colon anymore. I want it gone.”
Andy’s mom Kelly was hesitant to take such a big step, but Andy made his wishes clear. “Nobody knows what this feels like,” he said. “I feel like I have the stomach flu every day of my life.”
At 12 years old, Andy was more mature than most kids his age. He suggested the surgery. He did his own research. He advocated for himself.
With this decision made, Andy had a consult with pediatric surgeon Dr. Rashmi Kabre. A month later, his entire colon was surgically removed, leaving him with just two centimeters of his rectum and an ostomy bag. Soon after that, his bloody diarrhea stopped, one affirmation that this surgery was the right decision.
“Our conversation that first meeting was over an hour long,” Dr. Kabre said, explaining that first consultations involve discussing the three-staged operations along with their risks, complications, benefits and expected recovery times. “Andy’s questions were mature and well-researched; he was mentally ready for these surgeries, which is often more important than the physical aspect.”
His last question was to ask how soon after surgery he could play basketball – the activity he’d been missing out on the most. “He even asked if I could get the Duke basketball coach, Mike ‘Coach K’ Krzyzewski, to come and cheer him on throughout his surgeries,” Dr. Kabre laughed. “I told him ‘I can’t work miracles!’”
Andy had his three surgeries in the span of five months. By the end of the third surgery, part of his intestine had been removed, his small intestines were reconnected, and he no longer needed any type of external pouch.
“He has such a great, positive attitude,” Kelly said of her son. “He has taught me how, even in the worst situations, to just face reality and think of the positives. Even though he ended up with a temporary ostomy bag, which is no fun at all, he would say, ‘it’s going to get better; we’re going to get through this.’ And we did.”
The family attributes such a great recovery to Dr. Kabre, calling her “absolutely amazing.” Kelly said that Dr. Kabre always went the extra mile; she’d hold Andy’s hand before surgery and make sure his favorite song was playing in the operating room. She even successfully arranged for Coach K to give him a phone call before his last surgery!
“Andy is an absolute pleasure,” Dr. Kabre said. “He’s well-mannered, intelligent, funny, and most of all, a trooper. I’d hope that my sons would act like him if they were faced with such a life-altering disease like ulcerative colitis. I know that I’ll be calling on Kelly and Andy to help other children and families in this situation.”
“I feel like I got my life back,” Andy said. “Dr. Kabre gave me my life back.” He can eat fruits, vegetables, dairy and chocolate. He can play basketball. He feels 1,000 times better than he’d felt in years. And, when he grows up, well, “he says he wants to do something that will help other kids like him,” Dr. Kabre said with a smile. “I’m definitely trying to convince him to become a pediatric surgeon.”