Gastrointestinal experts help family find answers, relief

Oftentimes, parents can sense when something is wrong with their child. And it can be agonizing to not understand what the problem is or how to help. That was the case for Willoughby residents Craig and Keri, who watched their 7-year-old daughter, Ellie, struggle with abdominal problems.

Ellie had been on antibiotics for an infection when her upset stomach began. But her discomfort did not go away after the medication was complete. Over the next six weeks, Ellie’s pain, nausea and diarrhea got progressively worse. Ellie’s parents contacted her pediatrician’s office a number of times. Twice they rushed her to a local emergency room. But all conclusions were the same – it must be the flu.

Finally, after Ellie was doubled over in pain and began to have blood in her stool, she was referred to Virginia Baez-Socorro, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

“After all the worrying, we felt like we were on track to get Ellie the right care,” recalls Keri. “We went into the hospital completely undiagnosed and untreated and found the answers we needed.”

State-of-the-art diagnosis

Dr. Baez-Socorro is an expert in diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal problems in children. “When I met Ellie, she was dehydrated and in pain,” says Dr. Baez-Socorro. “To identify the source of her problem as quickly as possible, we performed an upper and lower endoscopy – minimally invasive procedures used to examine the gastrointestinal tract. We found that Ellie’s colon was severely inflamed and ulcerated, pointing to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).”

Dr. Baez-Socorro took biopsies and started Ellie on medication to decrease the inflammation. Soon after, laboratory results revealed the type of Ellie’s IBD – Crohn’s disease.

Individualized treatment

Crohn’s disease is a chronic, lifelong condition that causes inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. But it can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Once diagnosed, Ellie was treated with more aggressive medications to control the disease and heal the ulcers in her intestines. The family met with a nutrition counselor to learn how to modify her diet to improve her symptoms.

“Fortunately, we were able to diagnose and treat Ellie early, before the disease could cause complications,” explains Dr. Baez-Socorro. “If left undiagnosed, Ellie could have experienced delayed growth or developmental problems because Crohn’s disease robs the body of needed calories and nutrition.”

Focused specialty

To provide quicker access to care for patients like Ellie who need fast relief, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital developed the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The center provides state-of-the-art diagnostic procedures, expert treatment and nutritional support under the care of a specialized pediatric gastroenterology team.

“Our program is designed to provide rapid access to care for pediatric patients with gastrointestinal problems,” explains Thomas J. Sferra, MD, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition. “So often, young patients must wait weeks to see a specialist at a time when quick diagnosis and care can relieve their suffering and get them on track to wellness.”

UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition treats the full range of gastrointestinal issues – from IBD to food intolerances, such as celiac disease.

“Not only do we diagnose and treat pediatric problems, we help patients and their families cope with the condition long after they leave the hospital,” says Dr. Sferra.

A new life

Today Ellie and her family meet with Dr. Baez-Socorro regularly to make sure the disease is under control. The second-grader is back at school and enjoying life, playing outside and practicing gymnastics without discomfort.

“We could not have asked for a better caregiver than Dr. Baez-Socorro. She was so concerned about Ellie’s total well-being and treated her as a whole person,” says Keri. “We were fortunate to have found her.”

Thomas Sferra

Chief, Pediatric Gastroenterology,
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Associate Professor,
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Virginia Maria Baez-Socorro

Pediatric Gastroenterologist,
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor,
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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