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DI family establishes Crohn's and Colitis foundation
By Elizabeth Bush
Dec 26, 2012 - 8:24:03 AM


The Woodward family of Daniel Island recently formed their own non-profit organization in support of Crohn's and Colitis research.  Pictured left to right are Mark, Jack, Gisele, and Krsitina, and the family dog, Shadow.

It’s tough enough being a kid some days. Add in the fact that you can’t have the sugary sweets, ice cream, breads, and pasta that all the other kids your age are eating – and life just gets even more challenging.  But for Kristina and Jack Woodward of Daniel Island, it’s well worth it, because they are no longer in pain.   
Both are on a simple, “back to the basics” diet after being diagnosed with different digestive diseases within the last 14 months.  
“It’s actually really hard because I sit with my friends and they are having cupcakes, candy, chips and all that stuff that I can’t have,” said Kristina. “And when Halloween came, I didn’t actually go trick or treating. I stayed home and gave out candy to kids….It wasn’t so bad.”
First Jack, now age 9, was told by doctors in October 2011 that he had Crohn’s Disease, a lifelong illness that affects the intestinal tract.
“He was pretty sick,” recalled his mother, Gisele. “From October to March he was on steroids (to control the inflammation). Every time we tried to take him off, he would get sick again…He was in a lot of belly pain, a lot of irregular bowels, both extremes.”
Around the same time, Kristina began suffering from joint pain and sporadic intestinal cramping. Gisele, and her husband, Mark, feared it may be due to an injury from horseback riding. When a local orthopedic physician ruled that out, and all of her other tests were normal, they decided to take her to Jack’s pediatric gastroenterologist in Atlanta.  An endoscopy procedure in February of 2012 revealed troubling news.
“There was no question that at the very least it was Colitis,” said Gisele. “Her entire colon was full of sores and lesions.”
Crohn’s and Colitis, together known as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), cause inflammation, lesions and abscesses in the digestive system. Both are incurable and can be painful and incapacitating during flares.  
Kristina, age 10 at her diagnosis, immediately started antibiotics to prevent infection, but it caused more stomach discomfort. Jack, who had been on steroids for many months, was not gaining any weight. In fact, in a year’s time, he had not grown at all. Gisele’s concern was mounting.
“He was on steroids and medication, but was still not feeling better.”
There was yet another matter to add to the family dynamic. Mark could empathize all too well with what both kids were feeling. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease 22 years ago. Although he was in remission when Jack and Kristina began their own intestinal battles, he knew the risks and challenges associated with the diseases. Both parents were eager to explore non-pharmaceutical approaches, so when the kids’ physician suggested a new, promising diet that could alleviate symptoms, they were immediately intrigued.
“I’ve always been open to diets,” said Gisele. “…If there was ever any alternative to medication, especially in children, affecting growth and other things…that had always been my hope….Knowing both kids and Mark had IBD, we were ready to consider any sort of change that would minimize the risk of flares and keep the disease manageable.”
The doctor suggested “The Specific Carbohydrate Diet,” a program that had helped other pediatric IBD patients in his practice. As per the diet, patients must eliminate all complex carbohydrates, refined sugars, and certain categories of dairy products. The Woodwards took an “all in” approach and agreed the entire household, Gisele included, would adopt the diet.
Fast forward to November of 2012, eight months after the family started the new program.  The results have been remarkable, said Gisele.
“Both Kristina and Jack are symptom-free and completely prescription-free. They have also grown taller and put on a little weight, neither of which is ever taken for granted in kids with IBD.”
As per the diet’s requirements, the family sticks to fresh vegetables and fruits (which have natural sugars) and proteins such as beef, chicken, and fish. Seeds, nuts, and honey are also allowed.  All liquid dairy, grains, pastas, and other starches are off limits. It was tough at first, admits Kristina.
“It did take a little while, but after I started it, I felt better,” said Kristina.
“I think overall, the diet has moved us in the right direction,” added Mark, who says he now has much more energy than he did before. “It’s a day to day test to stay on it, but…you’re eating healthier no matter what. So it corrected bad behaviors and it also benefitted the disease…Clearly Gisele has been a strong influence on making sure we’re staying between the lines.”
“I think the reason we survived the first month is by focusing on what we could eat, instead of all the restrictions,” said Gisele, who has learned to adapt recipes for her family, such as substituting regular flour with almond flour, and regular milk with coconut milk. Her homemade banana bread and “cinnamon squares,” both prepared with diet-approved ingredients, are family favorites.  
“There’s a little bit of craving that goes away. I think for all of us, craving that bread and that pasta was the hardest, the high carbohydrates…But it does taper off. For the kids, and I think for Mark, the motivation has been that they are starting to feel better.”
Now that the Woodward family has found a way to manage IBD in a healthier way, they have decided to use their success to help others. They recently established the Woodward Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (WCCF) to support non-pharmaceutical options for keeping IBD symptoms under control. They have partnered with the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta (CHOA) to raise money in support of clinical trials for the diet. The trials will allow multi-site research at both CHOA and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to help answer scientific questions about why the diet works so well, particularly for children.  
“It’s up and running!” said Mark, of the family’s new, official non-profit organization.
The CHOA has already allocated $250,000 towards the $500,000 needed to fund the clinical trials. The Woodward’s foundation has pledged to join CHOA’s efforts to help raise the remaining $250,000. Finding research dollars to examine non-pharmaceutical treatment of diseases is tough, Gisele explained, because those studies often lack financial support from large drug companies.
“It is really, really hard,” she added. “Virtually impossible…That was a big catalyst for me….Once Kristina got diagnosed, and this non-pharmaceutical issue came about, we felt very strongly that this was the right thing to do.”
The WCCF will host a “Glow in the Dark” golf event at the Daniel Island Club on March 9 to support their campaign. They are also working to secure celebrity endorsements for the project.  
In the midst of all of their foundation’s efforts, and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the Woodwards are most certainly thankful for where they are today. As the smell of Gisele’s fresh-baked banana bread lofted through the air on a recent afternoon in the Woodward home, and eager hands reached for the first warm pieces, it was clear that life was definitely a little sweeter this year. And they are savoring every moment.   
For more information on the Woodward Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, please visit www.woodwardccf.org or email Gisele at gisele@woodwardccf.org.



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