At only 5 years old, Ryan Anderson began experiencing abdominal pain and discomfort. His mother, Tara noticed he was constantly going to the bathroom. While not uncommon for a child Ryan’s age, Tara became increasingly concerned when large amounts of blood began appearing in his stool.
Tara took Ryan directly to the family’s pediatrician, where initial testing failed to identify any underlying problems. Ryan was then referred to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC where gastroenterologists ran a series of tests to determine why the bleeding persisted.
Biopsies of his inflamed colon indicated that Ryan may have Crohn’s disease, a condition that involves chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Following his diagnosis, Ryan returned to Children’s Hospital almost every month for treatment and care.
In between treatments, Ryan enjoyed spending time in the hospital’s playrooms and taking part in the many activities planned by Children’s Child Life specialists. A sports fanatic, Ryan was thrilled to meet several of his Pittsburgh sports heroes from the Pirates and Steelers.
“After his first three or four visits to Children’s, Ryan didn’t want to leave,” says Tara. “He would tell me that he wanted to get sick again so he could go back to the hospital—that’s how much he loved it!”
To help relieve his symptoms, doctors placed Ryan on various medications. Unfortunately, the medications failed. As part of his ongoing evaluation, doctors repeated the biopsies of his colon to help determine further treatment. From these biopsies, Children’s gastroenterologists determined Ryan had ulcerative colitis and not Crohn’s disease. This finding meant that Ryan would need to endure surgery to remove his damaged colon and cure him of ulcerative colitis.
Over the course of eleven months, Ryan underwent five surgeries. In November 2009, he endured his first surgery in which his colon was removed. Despite feeling a little weak following the procedure, Ryan bounced back very quickly.
In January, Ryan experienced complications. A bowel obstruction brought him to Children’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where he endured emergency surgery to relieve the excruciating pain in his lower abdomen. When these complications persisted, specialists determined Ryan would need to undergo surgery, yet again, to clear another obstruction.
Tara attributes the success of these procedures to the expertise of Dr. Cartland Burns, clinical director of Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgery. “Dr. Burns is so experienced. His knowledge and skills put us completely at ease,” says Tara.
In July, Ryan underwent his fourth operation where surgeons created a “j-pouch” or internal reservoir formed of small intestine to assist with digestion in the absence of his colon. Weeks following surgery, x-rays revealed the pouch had healed. On September 23, 2010, Ryan endured his final surgery to reconnect his bowel. In total, Ryan spent more than 100 days at Children’s.
“The nurses really helped guide us through the entire process. When things got tough, they gave us that nudge we needed to continue on,” remembers Tara.
Now 7 years old, Ryan has enjoyed returning to school. After participating in the third annual DVE Rocks for Children’s radiothon held in the hospital’s Eat’n Park atrium, Ryan is quick to tell his first grade class about his on-air appearance. “He likes to think he’s famous,” laughs Tara.