Something was wrong with Jordan Thomas.
Once she had raced and run in marathons; now she barely had the energy to make it through the day. She'd always been active; now she headed straight home from student teaching and fell immediately into bed.
She hurt. Pain had been growing in her abdomen. There were other symptoms, too, the sort you don't talk about in polite company.
She knew something was wrong, but what?
“I was kind of stubborn,” said Thomas, 24, of Owasso. “I kept thinking I was just stressed out because I was student teaching.”
But that wasn't the problem. After rounds of blood tests, MRIs and colonoscopies in Oklahoma and at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Thomas was diagnosed with Crohn's disease on Jan. 19, 2011.
“I had a really bad case,” Thomas said. “The doctor said it was one of the worst cases he'd ever seen.”
In fact, Thomas still has Crohn's. The disease — like its cousin, ulcerative colitis — is incurable. Both affect the digestive system, causing severe abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever and weight loss.
The disorders affect each person differently. Some live with symptoms for years without relief; others have occasional bouts throughout their lives.
“They (patients) don't know if it'll ever go away,” said Joyce Jochim, who represents the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation in Oklahoma. “It can incapacitate them for days, weeks or years. A lot of times they have to go in and have surgeries and portions of their intestines removed.”
Even mild cases can be life-
“They can't just go on a picnic,” Jochim said. “Even to take a walk, they have to be sure there's a port-a-potty on the route. You can never just go to a park without making sure there's a restroom there. You have to live your life around this.”
It doesn't mean you can't go on living, though. Thomas is proof of that.
A teacher at Skiatook Intermediate Elementary, Thomas is also the face of this year's “Take Steps for Crohn's & Colitis” walk, which will be on Saturday at Stars & Stripes Park in Oklahoma City.
She is going public with her medical story to encourage others with similar symptoms to seek help.
She doesn't want people to suffer in silence because of embarrassment.
“I want people to know that you can life your life and achieve a lot of things with this disease,” Thomas said. “People are dealing with it: young, old, women and men. ... So go out and get treated.”
Thomas is better off than many patients. She suffered symptoms for about three months before she found a treatment that worked for her. Steroids and immunodepressants eased her pain, and she considers herself “in remission.”
Response to any treatment is idiosyncratic, though. What helped her may not help others.
The Crohn's & Colitis walk will raise funds for research into a cure, Jochim said.
Money will also go toward Camp Oasis, which offers a fun summer camp experience to children with digestive diseases.
About 1.4 million Americans suffer from Crohn's or colitis, she said. While it can strike at any age, most patients are diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 25.
These days, Thomas is back to her old self. She goes on long runs, spends time in her classroom and still has the energy to spend time with her husband, Cody.
“He will start his residency at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas in July,” she said. “We're going to be moving soon, so there's a whole lot of excitement around here.”
But not a lot of pain.