Oscar Lorenz, a soon-to-be senior at Hilliard Davidson High School this coming fall, has been confronting Crohn’s disease since the age of 10. He aims to raise awareness among families affected by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) about available educational resources to manage these chronic and debilitating conditions.

Recently, hundreds of participants gathered on a warm morning for the 15th annual Take Steps Columbus event at Dublin Coffman Park, hosted by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Southern Ohio Chapter. Lorenz, honored as this year’s Hero, led his team in raising research funds to support efforts in finding a cure for these digestive diseases, which often manifest during adolescence or even earlier.

Lorenz first experienced symptoms during a family vacation at Walt Disney World nearly seven years ago, including severe fatigue, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, and difficulty swallowing. He was eventually admitted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital after significant weight loss.

In the United States, over 3 million people, including approximately 50,000 in central Ohio, suffer from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms range from occasional stomach cramps to chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal bleeding, and frequent diarrhea.

Dr. Antoinette Pusateri from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition emphasized the variability in how these diseases present themselves. She highlighted the systemic impact of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis on organs beyond the gastrointestinal tract, such as the eyes, mouth, joints, and skin. Despite these challenges, advancements in treatment have emerged, thanks to ongoing research supported by organizations like the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

IBD, often genetically linked and sometimes seen in multiple family members, is increasingly diagnosed among young people. Distinct from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which lacks inflammation and serious complications, IBD involves an immune system malfunction targeting the digestive system.

The surge in diagnoses is attributed to heightened clinician awareness and earlier referrals to gastroenterologists, particularly in pediatric cases where symptoms like unexplained weight loss or chronic pain in joints or eyes precede noticeable gastrointestinal issues.

Medical interventions for IBD aim to enhance patient quality of life and minimize the need for surgeries, which affect up to 70% of hospitalized patients and can involve bowel resection or removal.

Oscar Lorenz’s journey to remission involved two years of trials with various medications. At Take Steps Columbus, he shared a message of resilience and optimism, inspiring others facing similar challenges with IBD.