But one Friday night, at the age of 5, that changed.
“Friday is pizza day at Christopher’s school and that’s what he had for lunch that afternoon,” remembers his mother, Palmira. “But that night he got violently sick, woke up in pain and had terrible diarrhea. It was frightening.”
The next day Palmira took Christopher to see his pediatrician. The doctor suspected Christopher might have been suffering from an acute reaction to gluten, so Palmira removed all gluten from her son’s diet. However, Christopher was still experiencing serious gastrointestinal distress.
The pediatrician then suspected that Christopher may have developed a sudden intolerance to lactose and suggested removing dairy from his diet. Unfortunately, Christopher remained in great pain and continued going to the bathroom almost hourly.
“Once food allergies were ruled out, the doctor was stumped,” Palmira says. “The pediatrician suggested Christopher see a specialist for some more in-depth diagnostic testing.”
After researching their options, the Padilhas decided to see Dr. Alejandro Flores at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston.
Flores is highly regarded among pediatric gastroenterologists, but for the Padilhas, the 45 miles that separated their Worcester home from Flores’s Boston office made the trip a daunting one.
“At that point, Christopher was very sick and had to go to the bathroom almost constantly,” Palmira says.
Based on the results of a colonoscopy, Flores was finally able to give the Padilhas a name for the mystery illness that had been plaguing their son: Crohn’s disease. Flores explained that Crohn’s is caused by an inflammation of the digestive tract and is typically treated with medication.
For treatment, Flores suggested the family see pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Brian Regan, who along with an expanding list of Boston Children’s specialists, sees patients at Milford Regional Medical Center in Milford.
Palmira says Regan offers the style of family-centered medicine she prefers.
“Dr. Regan is a very honest person who always takes the time to explain what he’s doing and why,” she says. “Some doctors talk to you about what is going to happen to your child. But Dr. Regan takes the time to talk with you. He always listens to us, and if we have any questions or concerns about Christopher’s treatment, he talks them through and clearly values our opinions.”
Never was Regan’s approach more apparent than when Palmira went to him with a concern that the medication being used to reduce the inflammation in Christopher’s intestine was slowing his growth rate. After a long discussion about possible treatment methods and their timing, she left Regan’s office completely confident that Christopher was in good hands.
“Decreased growth velocity is always a concern in patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), partly because of how the disease affects the body and partly because of the medication used to treat it,” Regan explains. “Our goals were to first get Christopher’s Crohn’s under control and then get him on a maintenance medication as quickly as possible. Understanding and talking through the family’s concerns helped ensure we were all on the same page and working towards those goals together.”
Over time, Christopher’s medication was adjusted until the type and dosages of his prescribed medications were perfected. The Padilhas also complemented Dr. Regan’s treatment with acupuncture and herbal remedies. This combination has kept Christopher’s Crohn’s disease in remission, and his appetite has increased, allowing him to eat all the nutrients a boy his age needs to grow.
Christopher continues to see Regan at Milford Regional Medical Center in Milford where he can get specialized care, close to home.
“Being able to see patients closer to their homes means my office can work around their schedules more, which makes things easier for everyone,” Regan points out. “And because our office is on the 3rd floor at Milford Regional, if patients need to have lab work done or have follow-up visits scheduled, it can all happen right here, in a facility they’re already familiar with.”
“Having a doctor as good as Regan so close to home is wonderful,” Palmira adds. “Getting to Milford is quite easy from where we live—there’s less traffic and parking is a breeze. And once you’re inside, it’s a lovely facility. It’s a win-win situation for our family.”
And those wins are most obvious when you look at Christopher today. He feels great, his growth has improved and since his last visit to Regan, he’s gained weight—a huge achievement for a young man who struggled for years to keep weight on.
“He has no symptoms now—no pain, no discomfort—nothing,” his mother says. “Aside from being a bit thin and a little small for his age, he’s just like every other boy in his class. We couldn’t be more happy with how far he’s come.”
Learn more about IBD and Boston Children’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center.