'Listen to Your Child': How a Teen and His Mother Learned to Cope With Crohn's Disease

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
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It was October 2017, and Connor Covington, a young teenager living in California, had been sick for almost two years. After various tests and blood work, Connor was sent to a gastroenterologist (GI). The GI sent Connor for more extensive testing, and after years of symptoms, he had an official diagnosis: Crohn’s disease.

HealthCentral spoke with Connor, now age 14, and his mom, Barbie Covington, about what it’s like to be diagnosed with a chronic illness at such a young age.

HealthCentral (HC): How does Crohn’s affect the things that you like to do most?

Connor: I was doing boxing, and I like to play video games too. The Crohn’s made it so I can’t really do the boxing right now.

Barbie: He’s still getting his strength back from his bad flare-up that landed him in the hospital back in December 2017.  He ended up having bowel resection surgery and was in the hospital for 19 days.

HC: How did you keep up with your school work while you were in the middle of your flare-up or in the hospital?

Connor: I was on home hospital, [which is where a teacher comes to the house and goes through the lessons with you,] but I did fall behind in math and science.

Barbie: Connor was sick for quite a while, so we put him on home hospital … When he got worse and was subsequently hospitalized, he was unable to do anything until the following January. It significantly impacted his academics.

We also have a 504 plan, and having that in action when he does fall behind at school has helped him to have time to make up that work. If he’s not feeling good, he is able to go to the nurse’s office and use their restroom — because who wants to sit in a stall with kids coming in and out while you’re doing your business? So, a 504 plan in action is super important.

Connor Covington
Barbie Covington

HC: Your friends must have known you were sick because you were absent from school for so long. How did you talk about your Crohn’s?

Connor: I told the people that I was close with about my Crohn’s, but the people that I am not close with, I didn’t want to tell them much because many people don’t know what they are talking about and can misinterpret what is said.

HC: Do you have any tips for other kids dealing with Crohn’s?

Connor: Eating healthy can help a lot of people. My mom will keep notes if [my symptoms are] really bad, including my diet and how I felt. I have found sugar and dairy seem to make it worse.

I would also tell other kids to push through [when they can,] and don’t let it take over your life.

Barbie: In fact, just this morning he wasn’t feeling good. But, on the not-so-good days like today, he persevered and pushed through. Connor is going to have a lot of those days. I don’t want his disease to just stop him.

Sugar really seems to be the main culprit for Connor. If he has a lot of sugar, we can really tell.  He also has to be mindful of getting enough fiber in his diet so he doesn’t always alternate between loose stools and constipation. Making sure to have that balance is key, but we are still figuring out everything.

HC: What has been one of the more frustrating things you have dealt with regarding your illness?

Connor: When I was first having the symptoms, we thought it was other things, and people didn’t believe how severe it actually was and how bad the pain was. It would have been helpful to advocate more for myself and for people to offer more help in an advice type of way.

Barbie: Unfortunately, for a few years, we wrote it off as anxiety — which can have a lot of the same symptoms as Crohn’s, like the upset stomach. So we thought it was nervous reactions. He also was a picky eater, so we thought maybe his diet was the issue. But, he kept telling us over that couple of years that “no, this is bigger, this is something else,” but we didn’t really believe him. Until he got really sick, dropping weight and not keeping food down, we didn’t realize how bad it was.

I am definitely dealing with some parental guilt there because we never thought anything bigger was going on. So, from a parent’s standpoint: Listen to your child and trust their instincts. Even if you have a shadow of a doubt, at the least seek the medical help for your peace of mind. I think we could have nipped some things in the bud if we had listened to what he was feeling when the symptoms first started.

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