January 17, 2023
Growing up, Amy Rubinchik was just like everybody else from the outside—she went to school, hung out with her friends, and enjoyed spending time with her family. On the inside, she was anything but.
“As a child, I was always very underweight and I would get tired quicker than the other kids. I just remember all the other kids would be doing sports after school every day but I would just come home and feel super exhausted,” Rubinchik said. “It was really hard for me to gain weight. I was always an off-the-charts unhealthy weight.”
It wasn’t until the symptoms became abnormally consistent that her parents finally decided to take her to the doctor’s office to figure out what was wrong.
“They diagnosed me with something called ulcerative colitis, which is the inflammation of one of your intestines,” Rubinchik said.
According to Dr. Matthew Ciorba, a professor of medicine and director of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) research at Washington University in St. Louis, those with inflammatory diseases have more vulnerable guts.
“When you have gastroenteritis or if somebody has Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, basically, there’s a breakdown of the gut barrier and additional toxins and even some bacteria can get through that lining of the gut and cause more systemic related symptoms, such as depression and exhaustion,” Ciorba said.
Rubinchik’s family thought the problem was solved. Though the news itself wasn’t what they wanted to hear, it was a diagnosis—a feeling of closure and purpose. Even better, colitis had readily available medication which Rubinchik could take to overcome her intestinal inflammation. She could finally overcome her fatigue and severely low body weight.
“The medication was helping a little bit, but I still wasn’t able to do sports after school and do sleepovers and this or that because I was just always so exhausted. It was hard for me to do that and gain weight,” Rubinchik said. “I was definitely better than I was when I was younger, but I still wasn’t that good.”
A few years later, unhappy with the results of the first medication and eager to find a more effective one, Rubinchik and her family once again went to the doctor’s office. This time, the doctors took a different approach.
“I swallowed a pill that doubled as a camera. Then it took 1000 pictures of my insides to see if the doctors could figure out what was wrong. By then they figured out that I had Crohn’s, so third grade was when I officially was diagnosed with Crohn’s,” Rubinchik said.
According to Mayo Clinic, Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes digestive swelling and inflammation.
It is rare in the United States, with fewer than 200,000 cases per year. Symptoms vary, with the predominant ones being abdominal pain, nausea, extreme weight loss, exhaustion, and constipation.
Following her diagnosis, Rubinchik was abruptly taken off her colitis medication and instead put on another medication called Remicade. Given through infusions, Remicade blocks TNA-alpha, a protein in our immune system that can cause inflammation in people with Crohn’s and colitis.
From her Crohn’s diagnosis at age nine up until sixth grade, Remicade turned Rubinchik’s life around for the better.
“It was really good. It definitely made me feel awesome for a long time,” Rubinchik said.