Scoring Points against Ulcerative Colitis

After noticing blood in his stool then losing 40 pounds and feeling drained physically and mentally, NHL player, Fernando Pisani accepted that his career — and life — depended on finding effective treatment for ulcerative colitis.

Edmonton Oiler Fernando Pisani wasn't too concerned when, a few weeks after finding blood in his stool, a doctor diagnosed him with ulcerative colitis. "I didn't give it much thought because my symptoms were manageable," says the hockey player, 31. "Looking back, I was pretty naive.

In July 2007, Pisani's symptoms took a sharp turn for the worse. Unable to keep any food or fluid down, he made up to thirty trips to the bathroom every day, suffering dehydration and severe cramping. In his blog, he writes: "I knew something was wrong with me, but I was kind of embarrassed to see somebody about it." Why embarrassed? 

"It's not one of the most glamorous conditions to have," he says ruefully. 

A gastrointestinal specialist put Pisani on prednisone, along with acetaminophen to relieve the pain. Neither provided much relief. His doctor advised surgery to remove his colon, but Pisani didn't want to go there. "Nobody had ever tried playing hockey with a [ostomy] bag on, and I feared it would end my career," he says. "I also felt I was too young for such a radical procedure." 

Realizing his career and life depended on finding effective treatment, Pisani sought a second opinion. By this time he felt "drained physically and mentally. As soon as food or drink would hit my lips I was running to the bathroom. It got to the point that I didn't want to eat any more." A loss of forty pounds bore witness to that sentiment. 

The new specialist put Pisani on a "biologic" drug that thwarts the inflammation process. The results were dramatic. "After about five days I noticed a change in my appetite," he recalls. "I was able to hold down my food and drink. I started to feel more energetic and get my colour back." 

Pisani still hadn't left the woods, though. "I had to rebuild my strength from about zero," he says. Accustomed to bench-pressing 230 pounds before his illness, he backtracked to lifting a 45-pound bar — and then collapsing with exhaustion. After missing 26 games, Pisani stepped back on the ice in December 2007. 

"I'll never forget how my fans cheered when I first played on home ice. I felt they were right with me." 

The biologic medication he receives every 8 weeks continues to do the job for Pisani. "I have no symptoms or side effects and can eat whatever I want," he says. What got him through his experience with his sanity intact, Pisani figures, is that "I never lost hope and my doctor had a game plan. With this disease, a combination of a good doctor and the right treatment can work wonders." 

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