For Sean Lawton, Ph.D., 2005 was a stressful year. He was finishing his doctorate degree dissertation and starting his first job. He had just become a new husband and father. On top of all that, he was in the process of moving homes. With so many stressful life events colliding together at the same time, it’s no wonder he wasn’t feeling quite himself.
At first, Sean attributed his feelings of gastrointestinal discomfort to stress. But one night after eating dinner, he was experiencing strong cramps. When he went to the bathroom, he noticed there was a lot of blood. “It was so bad, I almost blacked out,” recalls Sean. “I lost my vision and had to sit down for a moment.”
After a visit to a physician and some bloodwork, Sean was told he would need a colonoscopy. “My platelets were very low. Had I gone to the hospital the night I had the event, I may have needed a transfusion, so I was very lucky,” says Sean. “Once they performed the colonoscopy, they saw active Crohn’s. The area that caused me to bleed so much was cauterized to keep it from bleeding in the future.”
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea or change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, fatigue, unintentional weight loss, and malnutrition.
At that point, Sean began taking antibiotics and mesalamine, a drug used to treat ulcerative colitis and mild to moderate Crohn’s disease. While it can reduce inflammation, it does not induce remission for active Crohn’s disease. “I was stable and that was good enough for me at the time,” says Sean. “I had just graduated with my Ph.D. and was traveling around the world. My symptoms were not terrible, but it wasn’t wonderful. At least I didn’t have to go to the hospital.”
Sean knew that he was putting off the recommended colonoscopies and just getting by with medication management. In 2014 when he moved to Virginia, he met Dr. Michael Brown and found that he got along very well with him. “He made sure I got my colonoscopy right away. He didn’t want me to be on the medications I was on indefinitely but I didn’t want to go on a medication that would be a lifelong commitment,” says Sean.
Dr. Brown recalls meeting Sean and while his initial symptoms weren’t present, he had rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, and anemia. “He was just taking oral medications that deal with some of the symptoms he was having, but he wasn't taking anything stronger to deal with the underlying problem,” said Dr. Brown.
Crohn’s disease has a lot of gastrointestinal manifestations but when left untreated properly, it can cause more systematic problems such as skin issues, joint problems, and more. “My goal was to put him on a stronger medication that could help manage his symptoms better and avoid future health issues,” says Dr. Brown.
But Sean was not an easy patient to convince. “I was skeptical as my symptoms still didn’t seem that bad to me,” says Sean. “It wasn’t until Dr. Brown threatened to fire me as a patient that he caught my attention. I knew at that point this guy was serious, he was earnest and trying to break through my hard-headedness.”
Sean began reading studies, about potential side effects, and doing all the things a patient can do to learn more about their disease and treatment options. Slowly, he was becoming more and more convinced that more needed to be done. Soon after, Sean was placed on an infusion treatment called Entyvio.
“Darn if he wasn’t right!” remembers Sean. “Almost all my symptoms went away quickly.”
The frequency of infusion treatments for Crohn’s disease, depending on the type of medicine, can vary from patient to patient but the standard is every 8 weeks, for anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes per session.
Sean adheres to this regimen, spending about 30 minutes per session receiving the treatment. As a professor who visits research institutes around the world, Sean has learned to plan his travel around his treatments. “For my lifestyle, this has not been a problem,” says Sean. “I slowly tapered off the mesalamine and antibiotics and continued with any recommended colonoscopies until I was only on my infusion treatments and now, I’m in full remission.”
Dr. Brown says that Sean has done very well with his treatment and has been on it successfully for the past three years. “He has had a dramatic improvement in his overall health, quality of life, and experienced a decrease and resolution of his GI symptoms. I expect him to do very well for the foreseeable future.”
If you have similar symptoms or are concerned you could be managing them better, talk to a healthcare professional today.