It was 1996 when Lisa Walter Singley, a vivacious, young sales representative, started experiencing some troubling symptoms; symptoms that she had no idea, at the time, would impact her life for the next 14 years.
“I first noticed some abdominal cramping and over the course of a few weeks, the pain quickly progressed,” Lisa said of the earliest warning signs, “Before I knew it, I was experiencing rectal bleeding, diarrhea and a terrible sense of urgency. Something wasn’t right. I knew it was time to see a doctor.”
So Lisa sought the help of a gastroenterologist in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, and underwent a colonoscopy and a series of other tests. When the results came back, Lisa’s physician determined that the diagnosis was likely Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease, causes swelling in the gastrointestinal tract which often leads to pain and constant emptying of the intestines. But, because these symptoms are the same ones associated with other intestinal disorders including irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s can be very hard to diagnose.
Lisa’s physician tried managing her Crohn’s disease with steroid regimens that resulted in unpleasant side effects. And, despite treatment, her symptoms remained volatile. She struggled with them for the next five years.
“I felt like I was making daily sacrifices,” Lisa said. “I avoided eating most of my favorite foods and I was nervous whenever I had to leave the house. I didn’t feel like myself.”
An Unexpected Turn of Events
But then, in 2000, when Lisa and her husband decided to have their first child, Lisa’s Crohn’s disease symptoms seemed to vanish.
“For eight years, my disease went into remission,” Lisa explained. “During that time, I was able to eat more and I felt healthier than ever throughout my two pregnancies. After giving birth for the second time, I felt so great that I took up running.”
Feeling better than ever in December of 2008, Lisa excitedly began training to compete in a half-marathon. But her symptoms unexpectedly returned with a vengeance.
“One day, I was in excruciating pain and I couldn’t eat or drink anything,” Lisa recalled. “I became so exhausted and dehydrated that I had to be hospitalized for the first time. I was frightened.”
Following her hospital stay, Lisa explored new treatment options with her physician to help manage her disease. She was open-minded and willing to try anything over the course of the next year. But, when both intravenous and subcutaneous steroid treatments failed, she worried that colorectal surgery might be her only remaining option. In 2010, Lisa turned to Cleveland Clinic.
A New Option
“I had a network of friends and family members who had received excellent care at Cleveland Clinic for various health issues,” Lisa said. “I knew that if I was going to have surgery, I wanted to have it there. So, I went on the Web site to do some research and that’s when I came across MyConsult.”
The MyConsult® Online Medical Second Opinion program is a sophisticated, web-based extension of Cleveland Clinic’s 90-plus-year role as one of America’s respected referral institutions. The secure, online program provides medical second opinions from Cleveland Clinic specialists for more than 1,200 life-threatening and life-changing diagnoses.
“MyConsult seemed like a great option for someone like me,” Lisa said. “I’m a busy, working mom so I was grateful for the opportunity to get an online second opinion before spending precious time and money traveling from Atlanta to Cleveland.”
From the very start of the MyConsult process, Lisa recalled having a positive experience. When she faced difficulty obtaining one of her test results from her hometown medical facility, she contacted one of the dedicated registered nurses from the MyConsult Clinical Operations team.
“I was so thrilled to reach such a kind-hearted person on the other end of the phone,” Lisa said. “When I explained my problem to her, she offered to handle it personally. I felt such a sense of relief.”
After sending all her medical records and test results to Cleveland Clinic, Lisa quickly received her second opinion report, completed by Dr. Bret Lashner, Director of the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease in the Department of Gastroenterology. His second opinion shocked her.
“Dr. Lashner indicated that after reviewing all 14 years worth of materials documenting my disease, he didn’t believe Crohn’s was the cause of my symptoms,” Lisa said. “Instead, he believed I was suffering from indeterminate ulcerative colitis.”
Lisa was overcome with emotions after learning that she may have been treating the wrong disease for over a decade. She had so many questions. Should she try a new therapy? Should she seek a different type of specialist in her hometown? Would she ever be able to achieve a better quality of life?
“Dr. Lashner and the MyConsult team stayed in constant communication with me during the second opinion process,” Lisa said. “Dr. Lashner recommended I make an appointment with one of his gastroenterologist colleagues who practices in my hometown, but had completed his medical fellowship at Cleveland Clinic. So, I did that right away.”
Following Dr. Lashner’s recommendation, Lisa and her new gastroenterologist in Atlanta decided she would try a different medication therapy, which requires her to take only four pills per day. Because of this slight change, Lisa saw an immediate improvement in her health.
“Because of the unpredictable symptoms I experienced for so many years, I battled feelings of embarrassment and depression,” Lisa recalled. “Not anymore. I was able to start traveling again for my career in sales, and I am more active in my children’s lives.”
Now, over one year since her MyConsult Online Medical Second Opinion, Lisa feels great and has returned to her happy, active self. She says she feels confident and educated about her condition.
Lisa has hit the pavement again, running in her spare time to stay fit and maintain her health. She hopes to train for another half-marathon in the near future.
And, because of Lisa’s positive experience using the MyConsult Online Medical Second Opinion program, her mother has decided to make the trip to Cleveland Clinic to undergo surgery for atrial fibrillation later this year.
“Cleveland Clinic really does deliver on the promise of providing world class care to patients,” Lisa said; “even to patients who are hundreds of miles away. I would want nothing less for myself and my loved ones.”