When Ocala teen Caitlyn Dunning first started having stomach issues, her first thought was “I’m doing too much.” At 13 years old, Caitlyn was full of life – a dedicated friend, family member, student and cheerleader. But after about a month of persistent pain, Caitlyn’s mom, Christi, decided to take her to her pediatrician where she was immediately referred to Shands Hospital for Children at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“I thought I would just get some medication and leave,” said Caitlyn. “But they said, ‘no, you are staying with us.’ From then on it was a process of elimination, and the hardest part was not knowing. Once I had the answer, I knew I would be able to handle it.”
The answer was ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease where the body’s immune system attacks the intestines. Caitlyn’s team of physicians, which included Christopher Jolley, M.D., Genie Beasley, M.D., and Saleem Islam, M.D., spent a lot of time teaching Caitlyn how to control her disease. For a year, she received injections of a drug called REMICADE every other month. The medication reduced the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, but it didn’t work as well as Caitlyn had hoped. The only other option was to surgically remove the entire colon, an option that Caitlyn didn’t take lightly.
“Caitlyn’s amazingly responsible,” said Beasley. “She took it upon herself to look up information about her disease from the very beginning, and when she made the decision to have surgery, it was a decision she owned entirely.”
In November 2011, one year after she was diagnosed, Caitlyn had a colectomy.
“Caitlyn is the most positive person I’ve ever met,” said Beasley. “I walked into Caitlyn’s room after she had an eight-hour surgery, and she was sitting up, smiling, offering to show me her incision.”
Today Caitlyn is an active 15-year-old student at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala. She is a flier on her cheerleading team, which just won second in the state of Florida, and she has become a strong activist for ulcerative colitis. In 2011, Caitlyn attended Camp Oasis, a camp for children and teenagers with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and in 2012 she helped bring The Chrohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s signature Take Steps Walk to Gainesville. Caitlyn also worked with Beasley to form a support group for Gainesville-area teens battling irritable bowel disease.
“I have my life back,” said Caitlyn, “and the physicians at Shands were a huge part in making that happen.”