For her whole life, ever since she can remember, Patrice of Sheboygan has suffered from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Her digestive system was triggered consistently by various foods causing diarrhea, abdominal pain and perhaps above all, stress.
“My physicians initially thought I was lactose intolerant,” recalled Patrice. “I remember being very conscientious of not just the food I ate but the potential of having to suddenly use the restroom.”
Like nearly 3 million other Americans suffering from the disease, the now 30-year-old Patrice managed the incurable disease as best she could. As her illness progressed, Patrice sought care with a specialist – Dr. Marla Wolfert, a gastroenterologist at one of HSHS St. Nicholas Hospital’s physician partners, Prevea Health. With access to state-of-the-art diagnostic technology and resources at HSHS St. Nicholas Hospital, Dr. Wolfert discovered Patrice had actually been suffering from Crohn’s disease.
“It was really shocking,” said Patrice. “I never expected to have an autoimmune disease for the rest of my life, but there was some comfort knowing exactly what I had.”
Crohn’s disease is a type of IBD, which often causes weight loss, abdominal pain, tiredness, diarrhea and cramping. However, the disease effects everyone very differently. Patrice found it difficult trying to comprehend how some people could manage the illness by adjusting their diet, but others had to rely on medication to make the disease more manageable.
“For a long time, it was trial and error to find out what foods worked,” said Patrice. “But Dr. Wolfert recommended an IV infusion of Infliximab. Every six weeks I would spend about three hours at Prevea in Sheboygan and over the course of about a year, I really started noticing the differences it made in my life. I was discovering how to overcome the need to use the restroom more than others.”
By late 2021, Patrice says she could better control her frequent trips to the restroom by staying on the recommended medications and suggested changes to her diet. She says if it wasn’t for the care given to her close to her home in Sheboygan, by her trusted nurses and physicians, she likely would never have made it to this point.
“They were in the fight with me. They would let me cry when I needed too and treated me like I was more than just a patient,” said Patrice. “I was blown away by the time and compassion Dr. Wolfert and her staff showed me. At one point they encouraged me to get a second opinion to see if there were better treatment options. When I got a second opinion, another doctor told me I was on the right regimen.”
Beyond encouraging Patrice to get a second opinion regarding the state of her physical health, Dr. Wolfert also advocated for Patrice to focus on her mental health after being diagnosed. Patrice says it was through therapy sessions that she ultimately received the care needed to deal with the stress of a potentially life-long diagnosis.
“I really encourage others who may be experiencing an autoimmune disease to take care of their mental health as well,” says Patrice. “From the time I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease to the point when we were discovering which medications responded best, it was very stressful. But early on, Dr. Wolfert encouraged me to see a therapist and in doing so, I was able to take care of my mental and physical health.”
Patrice will likely battle her Crohn’s disease for the rest of her life. But thanks in part to the medical experts at HSHS St. Nicholas Hospital and Prevea Health in Sheboygan, she has every intention of continuing to live her life to the fullest; aided by the guidance and skilled medical care she has found close to home.
“It’s scary knowing one day my body might not respond to medications the way it does today. For me though, if that happens, Dr. Wolfert and my nurses will figure it out,” said Patrice. “I am not going at this alone. While it might be easy to fall into a deep dark hole of depression, my team won’t let that happen to me. We’ll figure it out together.”
Those who call Sheboygan and its surrounding communities home have trusted HSHS St. Nicholas Hospital to care for them and their loved ones for more than a century. Our longevity in the community and commitment to continuously evolve with the latest in modern medical care ensure patients like Patrice can receive the best care possible, close to home. Thank you for choosing HSHS St. Nicholas Hospital.