Sean Shapiro was a typical, healthy teenager – an athlete, good student and socially active guy in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, where he attended Gateway High School. But, during his senior year, he knew something was wrong with his health.
At the age of 18, Shapiro began experiencing painful digestive-related problems with frequent urgency to use the bathroom and troubling symptoms. After visiting a local gastroenterologist, he was diagnosed with colitis, an inflammatory disease that damages the digestive tract, specifically the large intestines, which is also known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
For the first few years, the disease was under control with proper medication, and he only experienced discomfort during seasonal transitions. In 2009, Shapiro graduated from high school and moved on to college.
Throughout his first year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Shapiro had a normal college experience. The medication allowed him to focus on school work and building friendships, but soon, it wasn’t enough to control the disease. He began experiencing frequent and more severe levels of pain, which meant frequent visits to the university health clinic. Logistics became a major challenge – his specialist was in Pittsburgh. He was hospitalized several times between sophomore and senior years while his care team experimented with a variety of medications, none of which helped him maintain remission from his troubling IBD symptoms.
As his health challenges escalated, Shapiro wasn’t in the best mental state to focus on the demands of class work. During senior year midterm week, he began a liquid diet in attempt to alleviate pain, causing him to drop from 160 to 135 pounds. He fought through the pain and his drive to succeed enabled him to graduate. In February 2015, Shapiro had surgery at UPMC Presbyterian to remove most of his large intestine, leaving only the last 6 inches. Two follow-up surgeries over the next 15 months left him with a J-pouch, a storage space that surgeons create out of the small intestine that takes the place of the removed portion of the large intestine.
Today, Shapiro is healthy, has a full-time job and is back to being his active self. His advice to anyone struggling with IBD is to actively seek support, and concentrate on what on they can control, such as sleep, exercise and diet.
“This program helped me realize that I was not alone in the struggle against IBD, and served as another layer of support when I was at my lowest,” Shapiro said.