As a kid, Katherine Harrigan suffered frequent flare-ups of her Crohn’s disease — an inflammation of the bowel that causes severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and fatigue. “I was losing so much blood,” she recalls, “using the bathroom about seven to eight times a day.” At 9, Harrigan began treatment with Dr. Reinaldo Garcia, division director of pediatric gastroenterology at Akron Children’s Hospital, who was able to control her disease with a combination of IV drugs and immune suppressors. Currently in remission, the 17-year-old Harrigan is a talented dancer and Crestview High School senior.
I often stayed for months at a time in the hospital. The disease was progressing fast, and sometimes I needed blood transfusions. I missed about two years of elementary school, fourth and fifth grade.
I had [symptoms] for probably about three years until I was able to become stabilized under Dr. Garcia’s care. He really took the time with us to explain the disease. Over time, he became family. You can talk to him like you’re friends.
I’ve been in remission for six years now. I started dancing when I was younger, and then I had to quit once I got sick. I picked it back up when I was 12, and I became a company member with Ashland Regional Ballet when I was about 14. I just finished a mini intensive with the Rockettes in New York City. The biggest part of my life right now is performing.
When you’re sick for so long, you feel like you might have to give that up. To get back into it and to be dancing for so long, it’s a great feeling. — as told to Annie Zaleski
Doc says: “Imagine that you are a teenager: You’re afraid of going to a sleepover or you cannot go out with friends, because you need to use the bathroom frequently,” says Dr. Reinaldo Garcia. “They cannot do the normal physical activities that the other kids are doing and it is really frustrating. A lot of the patients that we have with [inflammatory bowel disease] develop depression.”