Thank You, Jesus, for my Crohn’s Disease – Part 4

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I mentioned in Part 3 that my initial response to my Crohn’s disease was that it was a curse. I was afraid that my life would be focused on managing this chronic disease and its effects, like histoplasmosis.  However, God quickly showed me I was wrong. And as I continued to trust Him, His blessings started pouring in.

To start, I continue to praise the Lord that I contracted histoplasmosis.  Why? Because I am unable to take most medications to treat Crohn’s disease – any immunosuppressant drugs.  Why would I be happy about this?  Because I would most likely be taking these medications and receiving Remicade treatments to this day, 7 years later, to keep flair-ups at bay.  And here I am in remission without medications, by the grace and mercy of God.   Obviously this has saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars. One Remicade treatment cost about $8000-$10,000 without insurance, and that was the price about 10 years ago.

I received these treatments every 8-10 weeks.  You do the math.  Better yet, I’ll save you the time:

$10,000 X 5/year = $50,000  X  7 years  =  $350,000  Plus the cost of oral medications.

(Yes, most hospitals and doctors give a pay out of pocket or pay at service discount rate. In my experience a 30% discount is common at some Indianapolis hospitals. But even if it was a 50% discount, it would still cost $175,000, money we didn’t have just hiding under our mattress. 😛 )

You are now thinking, what about health insurance?  Well, that brings me to the next “curse” in my initial viewpoint.

Crohn’s disease = pre-existing condition = denied insurance.

After Brett and I married, I was receiving full health benefits through my employer Health and Nutrition Technology.  Once I delivered Kherington, our first born, I became a stay-at-home-mom and only worked about 8 hours/week. Consequently, I lost my health benefits.  This was late 2011, and Brett had only been working for his non-profit film company, House of Grace Films, for a year and was receiving health insurance through a private company.  Insurance companies cannot deny pre-existing conditions through group employee insurance, but when I tried to apply for health benefits through Brett’s private insurance, I was instantly denied.    Never mind the fact that I was in remission and not taking any medication, nor was I even seeing my GI doctor.  Once the company sees Crohn’s disease and some random fungus disease that I was hospitalized for, I received a polite “sorry.”

I applied for Cobra for a few months after delivering Kherington, but it was over $600/month and was not going to fit in our budget.  I found the government assisted program for people with pre-existing conditions, however, you weren’t eligible to apply until you were uninsured for 6 months.  I had no other option. So I took a risk and put my trust in God instead.  Again, by God’s grace, I did not have any doctor visits in the 6 month period.  The 6 month time frame was coming up. I had one week to go until I was officially uninsured for 6 months….and the government declared that they would not be taking any new applicants.

I was ticked.  Devastated.  My first thought? I guess Brett and I will not be having any more children for awhile.  Of course, this closure of new applicants was only the beginning of setting the stage for Obamacare.  It was mid-to late 2012 at this point.

Now what, God?  I continued several more months without insurance. I literally was out of options.  Until a friend gave me a copy of a Thriving Family magazine with an ad for a Christian health care sharing ministry called Samaritan Ministries.   I went to the their website and requested free information.

And what I read was too good to be true.  Samaritan Ministries “is a Biblical approach to paying for health care, based on passages such as Galatians 6. Verse two says, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.’ That law is the royal law of loving one another.

Here’s how the need sharing process works in a nutshell:

Each member commits to sending a set “Share” amount each month. These “Shares” are sent directly through the mail from one household to another, to the members with “Needs”. Samaritan Ministries uses a database that randomly matches Shares to Needs, so that the Sharing is coordinated and Shares go to the appropriate members with Needs.”

Wow!  After getting over the initial reaction of “this sounds too good to be true,” I was almost convinced that this is what the Lord wanted me to do and was excited to be living out first century Christianity.

2 years later I have been so blessed by this ministry.  As of today, Brett, Kherinton, and Damon have been added as well.  My fear of not having children for awhile was gone. A few months after joining Samaritan Ministries, I became pregnant with Damon, and all my prenatal, labor, and delivery costs were paid for by other Christians throughout the country. Not only was I getting personal checks but personal cards and notes. Tears were streaming down my face the first card and check I opened. Everyday for a couple weeks the cards would come. I was the little kid looking out the window waiting and listening for the mailman to come down my street.

IMG_0788Here is a snapshot of most the cards and notes. Yep, even got a Batman Valentine’s card!

Meanwhile, every month I am thrilled to get out my checkbook and send our monthly “share.” This isn’t just another “bill” we have to pay. Or look at our pay stubs frustrated to see how much money is being taken out. (If Brett and the kids had stayed on private insurance with the Affordable Care Act being enacted, their premium would be over $600/month).

I send our monthly “share” to a specific person with a specific health condition. For example, we sent our check with a picture Kherington colored to little “Jane” (not her real name) who has leukemia. Or “John” who broke his leg.  Or “Rachel” who is having a baby like myself.   No money is going to an insurance company who is filling their own pockets and who knows what else!

Interested in finding out more about Samaritan?  Download this information packet.

God is using my Crohn’s disease journey to fulfill true Biblical community. He has even given us the opportunity to have our story filmed as a “My Samaritan Story” on their website.

Watch the video below of Brett and me telling our testimony.

Oh, and last year at the Christian Worldview Film Festival (CWVFF), Samaritan Ministries sponsored 3 of the 4 awards that The War Within won.  So this year, Brett and I were part of the Samaritan ad in the CWVFF’s program.

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I don’t know if we would have joined Samaritan Ministries if I did not have Crohn’s disease. But I have faith that God does know all things and works out all things for the good of those that love Him. Therefore, I will continue to thank Jesus for this “curse” that is day by day turning into more blessings then I could have imagined.

Brace yourself… my next post will send chills up and down your spine as I share how God used this journey to not only bless me and my family but someone else and their family.

Thank You, Jesus, for my Crohn’s Disease – Part 3

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After 5 days in the hospital, the histoplasmosis (histo) was not at a dangerous level and I was released. I left with a prescription of an antifungal medication that I was required to take for an entire year.  But there was a new problem. Every medication to control Crohn’s disease was immunosuppressant.  When I tried these medications, my fevers would immediately return because my histo levels would rise. I will always have traces of the fungus in my lungs so I cannot be immune compromised.  My infectious disease physician, Dr. Delgado, was adamant that I stop all Remicade treatments. Dr. Maisel and Dr. Delgado corresponded to try to find the best medication for me, but after a few tries of new and upcoming drugs, nothing was keeping the histo suppressed .

After 6 years, I stopped Remicade treatments and all medications for Crohn’s disease and was only taking itraconazole for the histoplasmosis.  Was I worried? Most definitely. I felt like the two diseases would be against me, fighting to take over depending on which was treated.  In addition, Dr. Delgado warned us greatly that if I were to get pregnant, the medication would be detrimental to the baby.  So not only did I fear for my own health, but I had the fear of an unplanned pregnancy.

As always though, God had a greater plan that I could ever make up.  If you’ve read Part 2, you’ll remember that this was the year 2008 and by November of 2009 I was cleared from taking itraconazole.  I was now taking no medication, and I was having no symptoms of Crohn’s disease.  The Spring of 2010 I received a colonoscopy since it had been 2 years since my last one.  Irritable Bowel Disease patients are encouraged to get a colonoscopy every 2 years even during remission (no symptoms/flair-ups/inflammation) to screen for cancer since our cancer rate is higher than non-IBD people.

Results: no inflammation. Zilch. Zippo. None.  Brett and I walked out of there praising Jesus!!! And….Brett has some stories since Dr. Maisel allowed him to sit in on the colonoscopy!  Many physicians don’t let spouses because they have had their share of pass out experiences. So I can confidently say that Brett knows ALL of me…including inside of me! 😉

What then? I was in remission. And I continued my life as normal.  Fast forward to February 2011 and I was pregnant with our first born, Kherington.  A new fear arose. For some women, their Crohn’s symptoms worsen during pregnancy while others improve.  Since I was in remission my fear was that I would struggle with symptoms throughout my pregnancy.   But all praise to the Lord, my entire pregnancy was asymptomatic.

As I reflect back to that horrible experience of contracting histoplasmosis, I originally thought it was all a curse. My Crohn’s disease was a curse. My histoplasmosis was a curse and prevented me from continuing treatment for Crohn’s.  But the truth is disease IS a curse.  These diseases are a result of sin. No, not a specific sin that God was punishing me for, but the fact that I am a sinner.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”  Romans 5:12

Disease = death.  You. Me. We are all going to die. Disease is part of the process of dying, and death is a result of sin.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Yet, the good news is that Jesus Christ has defeated sin by nailing it to the cross and has defeated death by rising from the grave 3 days later.  This earthly body will continue to decompose, but HALLELUIAH some day I will live for all eternity with Jesus Christ with no disease or death!

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22

Maybe you are struggling with a chronic illness. Or a loved one just died. Or you question God why there is so much suffering and death. He is not the cause. He is the SOLUTION.

Jesus is my Healer.  He has currently healed me from Crohn’s disease. This past February 2015, I had another colonoscopy. The result: no inflammation.

But more importantly, Jesus has healed me from my sin. One night in September of 1991, my prayer was similar (or as much as a 5 year old could say) as David crying out,

“Have mercy on me, LORD; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” Psalm 41:4

And Christ’s response?

“He sent out his word and healed [me]; he rescued [me] from the grave.” Psalm 107:20

Maybe you have not been healed yet by your illness, disease, or thorn in the side.  But have you been healed from your sin?  Have you been too focused on trying to find the cure for your disease?  Or maybe you don’t have an illness but you are trying every new health fad to prevent disease, yet are failing to allow Christ to heal you from the disease of your soul, which has an eternal consequence?

Choose your eternal health now. Don’t wait. Christ is able and willing to make you alive now and for all eternity:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?  John 11:25-26

“Thank You, Jesus, for my Crohn’s Disease – Part 2

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My Senior year of high school was a great year despite this life-changing diagnosis.  My Crohn’s disease was soon under control with the medications and treatments. I had my bouts of depression and sadness, yet in addition to my parents, God had made sure that Brett would be by my side through it all.  We had been dating for a year at that point, and of course, I had no idea that he would be my husband someday. God knew and was preparing Brett for the journey ahead.  Brett wrote me a letter soon after I was diagnosed that told me that no matter what happened with this chronic disease, he would be right with me.

B and C Crohn'sI love this picture. It was taken around the time I was diagnosed.

The song that has captured our love story had become “Come What May” by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman from Moulin Rouge. (I confess…not the most moral movie).  Read a section of the song:

And there’s no mountain too high, no river too wide
Sing out this song and I’ll be there by your side
Storm clouds may gather and stars may collide
But I love you, I love you
Until the end of time
(Until the end of time)

Come what may, come what may
I will love you until my dying day
Oh, come what may, come what may
I will love you, I will love you

Brett and I had a long distance relationship throughout college and have been through some hard trials in our almost 7 years of marriage, and therefore, “come what may” has been a motto we live by that no matter what happens, we will choose to love each other.  This disease would be the beginning of many obstacles to overcome together.

I had a couple flair ups throughout college. My biggest was that first semester of my Freshman year. With college brings change and stress, and soon followed a flair up. I quickly learned that STRESS is my biggest enemy and inducer of Crohn’s symptoms.  My suite-mates would find me literally studying with textbooks and study notes on the toilet since there was no point of running back and forth to my room. (Gross? Maybe, but just giving you a glimpse of the life of someone with a bowel disease.)  Or I would be hyperactive at 12 am and couldn’t sleep because of a side effect of one of the steroids. Good thing my roommate was a night-owl.

My roommate, Rachel, and suite-mate, Katie, were the exact friends I needed while dealing with this embarrassing disease, especially during the first semester at college! They never judged my bowels (especially since I couldn’t control them!) and would laugh and joke with me at every chance.  I coined the phrase, “I have Crooooooohns!” and would whine this when I needed an excuse for something, even unrelated to the disease.  Looking back now, I thank the Lord for putting Rachel and Katie into my life to lessen my fears in new social experiences and allow me to feel ‘normal’.

FXCD0002Rachel, Me, Katie at Cedarville University – December 2004

Fast forward to 2008.  I had mild flair ups from time to time, but then the Spring of 2008 came.  I remember vividly sitting in the room at Dr. Maisel’s office and the RN asked me if anything was going on in my life to explain a flair up I was experiencing. My reply? “Let’s see. I’m in the middle of my Dietetic internship. I’m getting married a week after I finish my internship in July.  My fiance is filming a short film two weeks before our wedding. Brett and I are then moving into an apartment. I start my first professional job one week after the honeymoon, I officially graduate college in August, and then will be taking my Registered Dietitian exam soon after.”   College Graduation. Marriage. Moving. New Job. National Exam.  Stressed?!?  Again, it was another red flag that stress = flair up.

All praise to Jesus, with medication my symptoms were reduced. That summer of 2008 was an exciting time of change, and fortunately, I was able to enjoy every moment without the uncomfortable challenges of the disease…

…Until October of that 2008 hit.  5 months into marriage, Brett was finishing the editing process of The Board and gone until 1 am most nights, and Satan decided that it was time to throw a curve ball. The Board is an evangelistic film that we passed out to each home in Brownsburg, Indiana, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Satan wasn’t too happy, so like with Job, maybe God allowed him to push the thorn in my flesh deeper to distract Brett’s mission.

Brett and I were youth leaders at our church, and one evening in late October we went on a night hike in the woods.  I remember the exact moment as we were walking when my breath caught and I gasped.  All the sudden my chest felt constricted and I couldn’t breathe.  I got Brett’s attention and told him that something is not right and I can barely take a deep breath.  Fortunately, we were at the end of the hike and exited the woods to enjoy a warm bonfire.  Almost immediately, my chest opened and I was breathing regularly again.  I shrugged it off as “that was weird” and didn’t think about it.

Until a few days later when I started to have high fevers. Ongoing fevers. All day and all night. I couldn’t get out of bed. So after a few days of no relief I called Dr. Maisel, and she instructed me to go to the nearest lab to get blood and urine tests. That was on a Friday, and I didn’t hear from her until the following Monday. I vividly remember when she called that Monday morning. I was miserably in bed from the ongoing fevers for a week with no relief or answers, and Brett had already left for his part-time job at The Indianapolis Star.  We were on the phone for less than 3 minutes and in summary she said, “Pack your bags and go to St. Vincent Hospital immediately. You are being admitted for histoplasmosis.”  What is that?!? was my initial response. Big name must mean big problem. Dr. Maisel was matter-of-fact on the phone, but I knew she meant business and this was an urgent matter.

Once admitted, I quickly found out that histoplasmosis is a toxic fungus from bird and bat feces. It is very common in the Midwest and a large majority of people have traces of the fungus in their lungs but their immune system can easily fight it off. However, because of the Remicade treatments and medications I was taking to treat Crohn’s, my immune system was compromised and I could not fight off the fungus. So that moment in the woods when I gasped for air?  That was the moment I contracted it from bird feces in the woods.

I was admitted for 5 days in the hospital, being infused constantly with antifungal medication to kill it off before it left my lungs and permeated into the rest of my organs. An x-ray of my lungs actually looked similar to pneumonia.  The doctors were shocked that I only had fever symptoms and was not coughing constantly.  By God’s grace the histoplasmosis was under control and I was released.

However, I mentioned that possibly Satan was the instigator. We’ll never know for sure until heaven, but as always, when Satan means to harm, God turns it for good.  I missed the premiere of The Board because I was in the hospital that very night.  The short film was premiered at a movie theater for our church family, friends, and all the many volunteers involved in the production.
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Here is 1 of the 4 screenings at the premiere totaling about 900 people.
Can you find Brett and his family?
It was an exciting night, yet I was at the hospital crying. (Fortunately, I have an amazing sister, Laureann, and brother-in-law, Robby, who visited me so I wasn’t alone on the night of the big event!)  Brett came over after the premiere and I had my own private screening in the hospital room.  Looking back to that night, I now know it was only the beginning of God keeping me humble. When it comes to the gospel, it sure is not about me. It’s all about Jesus Christ.  Since then we have produced a feature film and are in pre-production of our next film, yet God continues to keep me humbled throughout the process.
I can’t wait to continue to share how God continued to use my Crohn’s disease to bring glory to Him! Check back next week…