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Local teenager doesn't let Crohn's disease slow him down

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To look at 14-year-old Preston Wing, one would never know that he has a chronic illness.

Wing lives with his parents, Brent and Toni, and his twin brothers in the Troy Burne subdivision just south of Hudson. He is in the eighth grade at Meyer Middle School and he has Crohn's disease.

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When asked what Crohn's disease is, Wing said he uses the description his doctors gave him when he was first diagnosed two and a half years ago.

"You know what canker sores are, like the ones you get in your mouth sometimes. Well, Crohn's is like having canker sores in your intestines. Sometimes they aren't there but when they come back, it's called a flare-up."

Toni Wing, a nurse, said they became concerned about Preston's health when he began losing weight and complaining of stomach pain the summer he was 11.

"It was a significant amount, about 30 pounds. I could touch my index finger to my thumb when I put them around his bicep. We were very concerned and started seeing doctors."

The Wings first thought that Preston had picked up a parasite on a trip they had made out of the country (they were living in Indianapolis at the time). They began with their family doctor and proceeded on to a number of specialists trying to find out what was making Preston sick.

"That went on for about four months, and it was very discouraging. Every test would come back negative. They just couldn't find anything. We were finally referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist, who came up with Crohn's," said Toni.

Two years later, Preston said he has accepted his disease as part of his life and he says that life is pretty normal despite the fact that he takes 14-15 pills a day. There are some side effects to the drugs, but Preston's body appears to have adjusted to them. He has had some flare-ups since his diagnosis and has missed some school but it hasn't been a big problem for him. Crohn's does not affect his level of activity and he continues to be a cross-country runner and downhill skier. Sometimes he misses school but he continues to be a good student, his favorite subjects being art, math and science. His parents monitor him closely since strenuous activity has a different affect on his body but it doesn't limit him. His diet, which his mother tries to keep well balanced, has only two real restrictions - no popcorn or peanuts.

"I don't mind the popcorn but I miss peanuts," said Wing.

Toni said that looking back, she suspects her son began to exhibit some symptoms of the disease about four years before his diagnosis, but there was nothing too severe. The difficulty in getting the proper diagnosis is common, especially when it comes to children. "Doctors just aren't looking for it and until recently, some of the tests and scopes weren't designed to be administered to children. They now have scopes that are small enough to be used on children's bodies. Better technology has made diagnosing this in children easier."

Toni said doctors treat the disease aggressively in children in an effort to keep them in remission and free from flare-ups as much as possible.

Wing's doctor is at the University of Minnesota and his mother has full confidence in the treatment he is getting. Weight loss and some delay in height growth is often a result of the disease but Wing regained the weight he lost and is growing right along with his friends.

The disease has been called the "diarrhea disease" but fortunately Wing hasn't experienced that symptom much. He is open with his friends about his illness and most everyone around him knows he has it.

"When they ask in school or someplace else to tell something unique about yourself, I always say I have Crohn's." Wing said his friends have asked him about the disease and then "kind of forgot about it." He said he has never been teased about it.

Wing said he doesn't really associate anything very negative with his disease except when it gives him some pain and he has to miss school. He also isn't too crazy about giving up his recess time to report to the school nurse for his medications.

On the positive side, his Crohn's disease has made him a part of Camp GottaGo, a summer camp for children with Crohn's and colitis. It includes the usual schedule of summer camp activities but when it's time to take a break for "meds," everybody has to do it.

"It's just fun and it's good being around other kids who have the same thing I do. We don't talk about it a lot but everybody knows what it's like," said Wing.

Crohn's disease has been linked genetically in only 20% of cases. The other 80% happen in families with no history of the disease. But the Wings are encouraged by the research that is being done by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation.

"In 2001 the first gene linked to the disease was discovered. That's a very important breakthrough and we're confident that someday a cure will be found," said Toni.

In the meantime the family will participate in the annual Strike Out Crohn's and Colitis Bowl-a-thon at the Hudson Bowling Center on March 27.

Toni Wing said her family has learned to live with the disease right along with Preston. Her oldest child has made her proud. "I don't know if it's because he's the oldest but he has had a maturity about all this right from the beginning. He's very strong. He knows what he has to do. He monitors himself and his needs. He keeps track of his medications and the supplements he has to take. It's a big responsibility but he handles it." Preston Wing said he is considering becoming a doctor.

For more information about Crohn's disease contact the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America at (800) 932-2423 or www.ccfa.org. For more information about participating in the upcoming fund-raiser in Hudson, call the Bowl-a-thon Hotline at (888) 422-3266.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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