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Why Life After Surgery for This Crohn’s Patient '100 Times Better'

December 01, 2021

In the nearly 30 years that he’s lived with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Robert Devine had his share of flare-ups that left him with sometimes severe abdominal pain and a loss of appetite. But the flare-up he had at the end of June was like none the 54-year-old Plainville resident had experienced. “I was in a ridiculous amount of pain,” he said. At an appointment with his gastroenterologist, his doctor advised him to go to the hospital. He checked himself into a facility outside of the Hartford HealthCare system, where he was a patient for nine days. He found no relief of his symptoms. “I checked myself out,” he said. “I was just getting sicker in there.” His GI doctor, after a CT scan, made an urgent referral to Dr. Paul Vignati, Chief of Colorectal Surgery at Hartford Hospital. “I saw him on Friday and on Monday I was in surgery,” Devine said. Vignati performed a proctocolectomy, the surgical removal of the colon and rectum with an end ileostomy. The decision to perform such surgery is never made lightly. Vignati said Devine’s was a particularly challenging case because besides Crohn’s, he has cirrhosis (an advanced liver disease) and diabetes, as well as an autoimmune neurological disorder destroying his vision. “He was a high-risk patient because of his other medical issues, but he was getting sicker and sicker,” Dr. Vignati said. “In the hospital, he was not responding at all to any medication. He was losing weight and in tremendous pain. So surgery -- albeit high risk -- was really the only option.” Once in the surgery, Vignati could see the colon was “very diseased. But he did great.” “People with chronic conditions like Crohn’s live with it over the course of years and years, and they don’t realize how sick they are,” Dr. Vignati said. “Surgery is one of the treatments available, and it can make people who are feeling very sick feel much better.” Put Devine in that camp. Having lost about 40 pounds in June and July, after his surgery he was able to eat normally and put some weight back on. Most important, the agonizing pain was gone. He was able to enjoy a cheeseburger at a summer cookout. “I feel awesome,” he said. “I can eat with no pain whatsoever. Before the surgery, I tried everything. All the biologics, all the medication. I could pretty much just eat shakes. Food was a nightmare for me. Now I am a hundred times better than I was.”