Jane: Making the Right Decisions

Health issues can cause you to face some seemingly impossible decisions; what appear at first to be a choice between bad and worse, the devil or the deep blue sea. But you make your choices for the right reasons, and you survive.

That’s the important thing. You survive.

Think of this: Jane M. is young, just in her mid-40s. For a few months she has suffered terribly with a mystery ailment that has nearly incapacitated her. She has relentless diarrhea and heavy bleeding, but she is still working her job as an office administrator for the Public Works Department in Maryland’s Baltimore County. This is Jane’s life. She has gone to doctors. Boy has she gone to doctors. Twice she went to an area hospital with these terrible symptoms, and twice they had sent her home no better than before and with no diagnosis to boot.

And then, a small miracle. The suffering is too much. Jane checks her health insurance plan and picks a doctor’s name off the list. Decisions. The luck of the draw. The name she chooses is Dr. Lisa Pichney of Mercy Medical Center’s Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease. On her very first visit, Dr. Pichney says the words Jane has been longing to hear.

“I know what you have.”

The Challenging Cure - A Decision Tree

What Jane had, though, was not something she wanted to hear: ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that can be totally debilitating.  It has no known cause.

“I’d gone from completely healthy to completely sick overnight,” Jane said. “And I didn’t know why.  As a first step at least, it was good to know the diagnosis.”

But the cure…that was the challenge. The treatment for ulcerative colitis is a stepped process that begins with a series of examinations and moves to treatment with medications. If that doesn’t work, the last step is to remove the colon.  Eventually, Jane faced that final stage, though it was not a place she wanted to be.

Before she got to that point, she walked a long and demanding road. By her side - a team of Mercy doctors trying to arrest her disease.

That very first day she saw Dr. Pichney, Jane was admitted to the hospital, and so her journey to a tough health decision began.  Her first step was a sigmoidoscopy, a minimally invasive exam of the large intestine, which confirmed the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis.  

From there she was treated with medications for several months, but they didn’t get the results either Jane or Dr. Pichney were looking for. So Dr. Pichney referred her to another Mercy specialist, Dr. Mary Harris, Medical Director for The Center for Inflammatory Bowel and Colorectal Diseases at Mercy. Dr. Harris performed a colonoscopy, and then wanted to start Jane on a regime of Remicade, an antibody used to treat some chronic inflammatory diseases.

Jane was in the hospital again before her first round of Remicade could be administered.  Then, after numerous Remicade treatments,, it turned out Jane was allergic to the drug, which caused her to break out in hives.  Dr. Harris told her she could no longer receive the treatments.

A Choice to Make

Finally, in July of that year Dr. Harris said Jane’s treatment options had led her to the end of the road. Her recommendation was that Jane have her colon removed, and she referred her to one last Mercy specialist - Dr. Debra Vachon, a Mercy colorectal surgeon (now retired).

“I originally said no way to having my colon removed,” Jane said. “I didn’t want to lose my colon – that’s serious business. “Even though I’d been through so much I knew that was a huge step, a life-changing event. But they’d tried everything by then to treat it and it wasn’t working. Every time I’d get to a point where we thought it was getting better it would flare up again. I had a choice to make.” By this point, she was afraid to eat during the day for fear of how her body would respond. Instead of taking meals, she was sucking on ice all day. She was miserable.

To help her make her choice, Jane went back to her original doctor, Dr. Pichney, the one who had initially diagnosed the disease. She asked two questions of the physician: If it were you, would you choose to have your colon removed? And if so, who would do the surgery?

Dr. Pichney’s responses: Yes, and Dr. Debra Vachon.

In September Dr. Vachon performed surgery to remove Jane’s colon. Dr. Vachon was able to perform most of the surgery laparoscopically, with only one bikini line incision. Jane’s hospital stay was only three days, much shorter, she said, than if “they’d opened me up like the old method.” In fact, by November Jane was back to work and back to being herself again. Only this time she didn’t have to eat ice chips for lunch.

A Difficult Choice Becomes the Right Choice

Jane feels now that she made the right health choice, and a big part of her ability to choose was having the right doctors to treat and advise her.

“I know I went through a lot but I feel like I was lucky,” she said. “I thank God every day that I live here in Maryland near a hospital with doctors like the ones at Mercy Medical Center. I feel like I had the best of the best.”

Jane adds that she is appreciative of the kind of time and care that Mercy doctors and nurses took for her complicated case. “Everything about the hospital was top notch,” she said. “The nurses were awesome, the doctors caring and compassionate. I really could not tell you anything bad about my experience with the hospital or staff.

“I didn’t realize how sick I was until now, that I’m so much better,” she added. “There was a time there where I couldn’t leave the house, couldn’t even go to the grocery store. But I made the right decision. I would tell anyone else who faced this disease to go to Mercy and listen to the doctors. You will get your life back, that’s what’s important. I got mine back, thanks to Mercy.”

Jane's Treatment Team