American Idol's Casey Abrams: Living Well With Inflammatory Bowel Disease
American Idol contestant Casey Abrams was a freshman at a large college who was slowly adjusting from a small high school when he developed worrisome and painful symptoms in his stomach. He was losing weight, running to the bathroom up to a dozen times a day, and was generally feeling unwell.
"When I would walk across the campus with my bass, it was even hard to breathe," recalls Abrams, who's known for his impressive jazz vocals and expertise on the bass. "I had blood in the stool. But it was embarrassing to talk about, so I didn't tell anyone at first."
About a year and a half ago, Casey's symptoms got worse. Abrams finally went to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC), a condition that causes swelling of the large intestine and the rectum.
Ulcerative Colitis is a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that typically affects the lining of the large intestine, including the colon and the rectum. Crohn's disease is another form of IBD that affects another portion of the digestive tract and can cause deeper inflammation.
Although IBD doesn't have a medical cure, the treatments are aimed to improve symptoms and to control inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs are often the first medication prescribed for an IBD sufferer. Immune system modifiers that reduce inflammation can be effective too—in addition to antibiotics and symptomatic treatments. Dietary adjustments can help symptoms, but these changes, unfortunately, don't improve overall disease control.
"I learned that I could not eat spicy foods," Abrams said. "And I found that I couldn't eat nuts or cheese."
Once Abrams began anti-inflammatory treatment, he started to feel better, although he did have flare-ups while performing. Despite his health problems, Abrams still managed to come in sixth on Season 10 of American Idol and was able to score a spot on the 2011 summer tour.
Some 1.5 million Americans suffer from IBD, says David Rubin, MD, co-director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Chicago.
"Both of these are considered chronic, like asthma," Rubin says. "Once you have it, it lives with you. But it is treatable."
About 25 percent of ulcerative colitis sufferers may need surgery because their disease does not respond to medication, Rubin says.
In hopes of getting the message out to others that it's okay to talk about IBD, Abrams has joined up with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) to host the IBD Icons. Through this program, individuals with IBD get the chance to share their stories and be in the running to win the title of IBD Icon. Those who win get to see Casey Abrams perform at the "Zappos.com Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon," which will benefit the CCFA.
The nine finalists have been chosen, and now the public has the chance to vote for their favorite finalist. One individual with Crohn's and one with ulcerative colitis will be the 2011 IBD Icons. Janssen Biotech, Inc. has agreed to donate one dollar per vote casted to the CCFA for research and education about IBD.
"The message I have for people is to see a doctor if you have symptoms of IBD," Abrams says. "There are people living with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's who have way more inspirational stories than I do. I want people to know that if you have this, it will be okay. It's manageable."
Casey and a panel of judges from the CCFA have selected the finalists based on the originality of their story, how they live beyond having IBD, and their passion to encourage others to reach their personal goals. Now, it's up to you to decide who should be named the 2011 IBD Icon. The finalists are:
- Ally, Vernon Hills, IL (Crohn's)
- Antonio, Lithonia, GA (Crohn's)
- Doug, Glendale, CA (Crohn's)
- Elaine, McLean, VA (Crohn's)
- KerriAnn, Canton, MA (Crohn's)
- Alicia, Ladera Ranch, CA (UC)
- Danielle, Parachute, CO (UC)
- Katie, Kansas City, MO (UC)
- Todd, Ocean Township, NJ (UC)
Voting is open to all U.S. citizens now through November 1st 11:59 p.m. EST. Visit www.IBDIcons.com to learn more about the finalists, view the full voting rules and regulations, and cast your vote.
On Sunday, December 4th, Casey will perform at the Zappos.com Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon & Half Marathon to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). His mom will be running the half marathon in his honor.
Two winners, one with UC and one with Crohn's, have been chosen by the public and will be announced on December 1st. Every vote that was cast, Janssen Biotech, Inc. donated $1 to the CCFA for IBD research and education.
Congratulations to the 2011 winners, Katie from Kansas City, MO and Doug from Glendale, CA.
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