Climbing mountains: “I won’t let ulcerative colitis define me”

IBD-Mark Donohue 1

Mark Donohue craves outdoor activity. While most were braving Old Man Winter’s 2015 wrath, this 19-year-old Ticonderoga, New York native embraced Mother Nature and hiked to the summit of his home state’s Black Mountain, tackled the slopes in Colorado and pond-skated locally with friends.

Mark says his love of the great outdoors and his quest to climb new personal heights has never been overshadowed by ulcerative colitis.

“I won’t let the disease define me,” says Donohue, a college freshman at Binghamton University in New York. “I take it in stride, stay positive and don’t let ulcerative colitis dictate the kind of person I want to be.”

Ulcerative colitis isn’t slowing Mark Donohue down.

Watch Mark’s amateur video recapping his 2015 winter adventures.

Mark’s journey with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) began in 2010 during his freshman year of high school. The 14-year-old embraced high school life – he joined the football team, enrolled in the school’s music program and formed a student-run band called “Flipside.” He was thriving.


A season of changeIBD-Mark Donohue 2

Mark’s quest for new adventures continued. Later in the year, the young athlete played winter basketball and spring baseball.  As the seasons changed and Mark’s activity list lengthened, one thing remained constant: his ongoing stomach pain.

“I had a lot of stomach pain and cramps, but that was pretty typical for me,” Mark says. “When I started to see blood when I went to the bathroom, I knew that wasn’t normal.”

With the prompting and support of his parents, Mark made an appointment with a local specialist for care.

“I have always been an active and outgoing person, so it was hard for me to accept that everything wasn’t normal,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘I am happy…it can’t stop now.’”

But things were far from normal. Mark underwent a colonoscopy, and the test results pointed to ulcerative colitis.

“Even after hearing those new, scary-sounding words (ulcerative colitis), I still felt that things weren’t that bad,” he recalls. “But I realize now that this attitude was really one of denial. I didn’t want to think that anything could be wrong with me.”


Reality set in

To combat the affects of colitis, Mark’s gastroenterologist prescribed prednisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid medication designed to decrease intestinal swelling.

The medication offered little-to-no relief, so Mark’s physician prescribed Remicade as an alternative form of treatment. To Mark’s dismay, Remicade caused a severe allergic reaction.

The Donohues knew it was time for a new approach.


Traveling the distance: From New York to BostonIBD-Mark Donohue and Dad

Mark’s parents were advocates for their son. The Donohues’ researched colitis tirelessly; investigated various forms of treatments and identified the best pediatric hospitals for care. Based on their research, the the family traveled to Boston for an appointment with Michael J. Docktor, MD, attending gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. “I heard Boston Children’s was a great place and had no reservation about traveling the distance,” Mark says.


Meeting Dr. Michael Docktor

“Mark was quite ill and really looking for other options when I first met him,” Docktor recalls. “He presented with fairly severe disease that was requiring an escalation of therapy and likely surgery.”

Following a review of Mark’s medical history, additional testing, and close collaboration with Mark’s family, Docktor performed a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) – an experimental procedure where extensively screened, healthy human donor stool is delivered to a patient via colonoscopy, endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or enema. This procedure is designed to restore a healthy gut microbiota (bacteria) in the colon.

Though the fecal transplant did not alleviate the effects of Mark’s ulcerative colitis, the antibiotic he took prior to the procedure did.

“I started to notice that I was feeling really good once I started taking the antibiotic,” Mark says. “I wasn’t cramping and was less uncomfortable going to the bathroom.”


Living with ulcerative colitisIBD - Mark Donohue

Fast-forward to Mark’s freshman year of college: the young sportsman and avid musician continues to see Dr. Docktor for care and remains on antibiotic treatment. Mark says he is full of energy and truly living life.

“Mark is a fighter,” Docktor says. “He is someone who, through the help of his wonderful parents, has been fighting for a better quality of life. Mark has worked hard to pursue his dreams and live perhaps a better-than-normal life despite his chronic illness.”


Learn more about how Boston Children’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center.