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Abigail's Story of Hope presented by Chick-Fil-A

Abigail's Story of Hope presented by Chick-Fil-A

In September of 2021, Abigail Sanderson started to drastically lose weight. The 17-year-old wasn’t doing anything different. No change in eating habits. No changes in exercise. Hurricane Ida had just hit Louisiana so her parents at first chalked the weight loss up to the stress brought on by the storm. It was her junior year of high school, and she struggled many nights with sharp, shooting pains that felt like they were in her stomach. She remembers the worry. Not just her mom’s but her own. What would cause this? 

“Me and my mom would stay up all night,” Abi recalls fighting the pain and wishing it would end.  “We have to get this fixed and under control so I can be healthy again,” she remembers thinking to herself.

The symptoms would come and go. They got worse during her senior year. Her father happens to work at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and referred Abigail to its IBD clinic where doctors conducted a colonoscopy and an MRI in an effort to diagnose what was happening. 

One of the first things doctors had to do was insert an NG tube to assist with feeding. “I was on that tube for a while trying to get my nutrition back up and my weight back up,” said Abigail. It was the best way to make sure that Abigail could get the nutrients she desperately needed. The tests revealed she had Crohn’s disease, which is swelling, inflammation, and irritation in the digestive tract. 

All this impacted Abigail’s ability to attend school. It was now the start of her senior year, and she knew she would have to keep up if she wanted to graduate. “I was doing my homework while in the hospital,” Abigail remembers. 

Dr. Elizabeth McDonough told Abigail she would need surgery. “You hear a doctor say ‘this is bad’ and you’re like this is extremely bad,” said Abigail. What made matters worse? Doctors told her she was only a candidate for surgery after she put back on some of the weight she had lost. She would need to have about 12 inches of her lower intestine removed. Dr. Jessica Zagory helped Abigail feel comfortable with the idea.  

In November of 2021, Abigail had surgery at Children’s Hospital and would recover there for about a week. It was exactly what she needed to fix the problem.

“Yes, the surgery did help. If not 100%, it fixed 99% of it and I was not having any more pain. I wasn't staying up all night crying and I was able to sleep through the night,” Abigail said. 

That’s not to say that recovery was easy. “It was just painful. I didn't want to move, but I knew I had to start getting somewhere or I would stay in the hospital longer,” said Abigail. “I knew I had to just get up and power through the pain,” Abigail said. Every day she seemed a little stronger, a little more like herself.  “I had some of my teachers come to my house when I was back home and give me my schoolwork.” She remembers, sharing her gratitude. “They were checking on me daily and I got everything done and on time.”

Dr. Nicole Zeky, a fellow at the time in the IBD clinic at Children's Hospital of New Orleans, personally kept tabs on Abigail. Dr. Zeky could relate: she, too, battled with Crohn's disease. Abigail felt a strong bond with Dr. Zeky, recognizing that only someone who has experienced Crohn's disease firsthand could truly empathize with the challenges of being a patient.

Abigail graduated and went on to successfully complete her freshman year of college. While still taking medicine, Abigail is doing much better now. She is looking forward to graduating with a Kinesiology degree and plans to go to Physical Therapy school. She hopes to one day become  a pediatric physical therapist.

Watch Abigail's story of hope on youtube

To learn more about the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Multidisciplinary Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and how they treat children with Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Indeterminate Colitis, click here.