Parachute woman competes in online contest for IBD cure | PostIndependent.com
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Parachute woman competes in online contest for IBD cure

John ColsonPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent
ALL |

Parachute resident Danielle “Dani” Gonzales is asking for your vote.In an online contest hosted by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Gonzales is one of nine people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who are competing for an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas.Visitors to the IBD Icons website (www.ibdicons.com) are asked to vote for their two favorites, based on essays each contestant wrote about their experiences, their achievements and their work to find a cure to the debilitating family of IBD illnesses.This is one election where ballot box-stuffing is perfectly legal, so Gonzales is asking everyone to vote early and vote often. The voting ends at midnight on Monday, Oct. 31.Gonzales, 21, is afflicted with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, infections that attack the colon and digestive tract. Surgery is often necessary to remove infected organs.Despite the disruptions to her life caused by the disease, Gonzales is working with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation through the online contest to raise money for research to find better treatments and a cure. The foundation reports that hundreds of Americans suffer from one or more IBD illnesses.The contest is co-sponsored by the foundation and by Janssen Biotech, Inc., a pharmaceutical company. Janssen will donate $1 for every online vote up to $20,000.

Gonzales developed the illness at age 13 when she noticed blood in her stool. A doctor misdiagnosed the problem as related to menstruation and the hormone changes of puberty.But three months later, Gonzales fell terribly ill from loss of blood and had to be hospitalized for a double blood transfusion. At that point, doctors made an accurate diagnosis.”My big kick right now is getting family doctors educated,” she said. In small towns, she explained, IBDs are rarely seen and often misdiagnosed or misunderstood.As part of her essay assignment for the contest, she was asked to provide a bit of advice for those recently diagnosed with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. Her advice?”Be sure to find a doctor you trust, because if you don’t find one you trust, you’re not going to get better,” she wrote.Symptoms of Crohn’s, according to the website http://www.crohnsonline.com, include diarrhea, cramping or abdominal pain, as well as weight loss, loss of appetite, severe joint pain and nausea.The disease is hereditary and can skip generations or be passed from parents to their children, Gonzales said. Her case came from her father’s side of the family, although her father has never shown symptoms.Treatment can involve surgery and the subsequent need to use an ostomy bag to collect and dispose of bodily waste.”It’s a very embarrassing disease,” Gonzales said pointedly, “so a lot of people don’t talk about it.”In the same breath, she added, “I’m not afraid to talk about mine, though.”

She has attended Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation camps since age 14. The camps, she said, “changed my life. I finally knew that I wasn’t alone. There were other kids my age who had the same things going on, the same struggles.”At 15, she won a national “Local Hero” contest run by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation that took her to New York City and allowed her to shed whatever remained of her emotional shell built up from her earlier feelings of isolation.”At that point, I realized I could not be shy about it any more,” she recalled, leaning forward with intensity. “Really, it doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t change who you are. I think having this disease has made me a stronger person.”With help from her mother, Mary Moore, also of Parachute, Gonzales has started a Western Slope chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and organized three fundraising walks. The most recent was held in Rifle last year.She said she has only met one other person in this area with either Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, but suspects there are many more.”If there are others in the area who want to get in contact, just to talk or anything, come to our walk next year,” she said.In the meantime, anyone can vote for Dani Gonzales today.jcolson@postindependent.com


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