Rachel Wettenstein
Rachel Wettenstein

The Wizard of Oz-themed night will raise critical funds and drive awareness to help find cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which currently have no cure.

On Oct. 1, the Michigan chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation will host its 45th Annual Evening of Hope “There’s No Place Like Hope” gala at the MotorCity Casino Hotel.

The Wizard of Oz-themed night will raise critical funds and drive awareness to help find cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which currently have no cure. It will also raise funding to ensure that research and patient programs can continue for years to come.
At the event, which takes place from 6-10 p.m., attendees will experience entertainment, special guests, silent auctions and hear inspirational stories from those living with the diseases.

Individual tickets start at $250 and sponsorship packages are available as well.
As an “invisible illness,” the effects of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis aren’t always visible. Known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, these conditions attack the digestive system and can cause painful symptoms and flares.

With no known cure, people diagnosed with the diseases often use a combination of medicine, lifestyle changes and stress-reduction techniques to help keep symptoms under control.

Symptoms can include abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever and weight loss. Sometimes, the symptoms can be so severe that hospitalization is required, especially during a flare. A flare is when symptoms of the disease attack in full force.
Many patients even require surgery, especially after multiple hospitalizations.

Living with Ulcerative Colitis

Most people develop the diseases between the ages of 15 and 35, but more and more diagnoses are being made in children.

Rachel Wettenstein, 37, of Ann Arbor, who is involved with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, was one of those adolescents diagnosed in childhood.

In October 1998, Wettenstein was gearing up to turn 14 — a time that should have been exciting.

Instead, she had bad stomachaches and was running to the bathroom multiple times a day. After finding blood and mucus in her stools, Wettenstein’s parents took her to see a pediatric gastroenterologist at Troy Beaumont.

“I was already going through normal teenage stuff,” she recalls. “On top of that, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness.”

Wettenstein’s treating doctor determined that she had ulcerative colitis, a form of IBD that affects an estimated 1 million people in the U.nited States. It causes inflammation and ulcers, or sores, in the digestive tract.

The teenager began prednisone, a corticosteroid regimen, and missed two weeks of school.
“It was so tough,” she admits.

Coping with Flares

As years went on, Wettenstein experienced multiple flares. She was put on various medications, going through periods of remission where “you can live normally” and more difficult periods.

In November 2016, she had a major ulcerative colitis flare that required hospitalization. “When I was in the hospital, they talked about surgery,” she says. “I was in my early 30s, so that was pretty scary.”

Luckily, Wettenstein turned the corner and began a series of medicine infusions. She was mostly flare-free until this July, when she was hospitalized once again with severe symptoms.

“During a flare, you just feel awful,” she explains. “You’re worried you won’t make it to the bathroom on time. You’re not really eating because you don’t want to eat food.”
It’s “very challenging,” she adds.

Finding a Cure

Still, her journey inspired her to take action.

After her first hospital stay in 2016, Wettenstein became involved with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and is also involved in the organization’s young professional group. She’s involved with Jewish Young Professionals of Ann Arbor as well and attends NEXTGen and The Well events.

To manage the disease, Wettenstein stays active and makes exercising a priority. This helps her relieve stress, an important lifestyle habit for people with IBD (since stress is a major trigger for flares).

“I just want people to be more aware that this is a physical illness,” she says. “We may look healthy on the outside, but we’re feeling awful on the inside.”

Wettenstein hopes that more resources will become available to teach people about the condition. “It’s a difficult disease, and not a lot of people know about IBD,” she explains.

She also hopes living with IBD will be normalized in the workplace. Wettenstein calls herself lucky at the moment because her coworkers are understanding of her need to sometimes leave work early to manage her condition, but that wasn’t always the case.

Previous jobs weren’t as understanding, and she struggled to get the time off she needed for important appointments.

“If someone is experiencing a flare, be kind to them,” she advises. “I want people to realize we’re not faking it. It’s a tough disease and there’s no cure. I want there to be a cure.”

To get tickets for “There’s No Place Like Hope”, visit www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/events/evening-of-hope-4.

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