Overcoming IBD: ‘I am bigger than my Crohn’s disease.’

Camden Vassallo Crohns DiseaseLike most high school seniors, Camden Vassallo of Norwell has a very busy schedule. The 17-year-old Thayer Academy student manages a heavy academic schedule, works at the local YMCA, is a two-sport, three-season athlete and is looking ahead to college.

But like nearly 800,000 children and adults in the U.S., Camden is also managing Crohn’s disease — a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The condition causes intense stomach pain, diarrhea, fatigue, bloody stool and weight loss in severe cases.

Although the disease has uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing symptoms, Camden says Crohn’s hasn’t slowed him down or shaken his optimism.

“At first I struggled with having a disease that deals with a gross part of the body,” he says. “But Crohn’s doesn’t consume me and I don’t let it control my life.”

The season of change

During the winter of 2015, Camden was healthy and in the midst of a busy season of athletics and academics. But that January, something changed. Stomach pain, diarrhea and frequent urges to go the bathroom became part of his daily routine.

“It initially started as a bloated feeling, but after a few months it took a turn for the worse really fast,” he recalls.

Camden also experienced a rare symptom of Crohn’s disease called orofacial granulomatosis (OFG) — a chronic inflammatory condition of the mouth that often causes mouth sores. “I also had cold sores in my mouth and inflammation throughout my whole digestive tract,” he recalls.

Under the care of his local pediatrician, they investigated several possible diagnoses, including a gluten or lactose intolerance, celiac disease and others. But his symptoms persisted.

Seeking an IBD specialist and getting a diagnosis

As the months passed, Camden’s symptoms worsened and he lost nearly 15 pounds. It was time to see a specialist. His pediatrician referred him to Boston Children’s.

“Camden was quite sick when he arrived,” says gastroenterologist, Dr. Athos Bousvaros, associate director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center. “He had severe abdominal pain, weight loss and diarrhea.”

Watch Dr. Bousvaros’ caregiver video

Due to the weight loss and other symptoms, he was admitted to the hospital and spent the next eight days undergoing a series of tests, including a colonoscopy and endoscopy. Camden’s team of IBD experts diagnosed him with Crohn’s disease.

“I was so excited to have a diagnosis,” Camden recalls. “I knew what was going on and why, and that treatment was available.”

Bousvaros started Camden on intravenous infusions of a medication to help relieve Camden’s symptoms. He visits Boston Children’s every six weeks for treatment.

Looking to the future

Today, the high school senior is in full remission — free of stomach pain, diarrhea and urgent trips to the bathroom. “As long as his disease stays under control, and he does not lose response to his current medicines, his prognosis is excellent,” Bousvaros says.

Looking ahead, Camden has a lot to be excited about. He is graduating high school this spring and attending Duke University next fall to pursue a career in engineering.

He is also happy to be free of IBD and grateful for the care he receives.

“I love Dr. B,” he says. “I’m getting top-notch treatment from caring experts at one of the best hospitals in the world. I’ve practically won the lottery.”


Want to learn more? Read our list of Things To Know About IBD.