Sam and Laura Kirstein first met in college where they both were runners on the school's athletic teams. They had one other thing in common: both had been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Sam had ulcerative colitis; Laura had Crohn's disease. And for both, IBD soon halted their active lifestyles.
As their symptoms worsened, Sam and Laura feared that their athletic careers were over. "There were a number of years where I really didn't do anything," says Laura. "It's difficult enough to manage a regular life with IBD, let alone trying to throw in athletics." Laura eventually found the right mix of medications to keep her symptoms in check. Medications didn't work for Sam, and after running out of options, he was referred to Mayo Clinic.
"The care that I had been receiving was one doctor, one opinion, and the gradual narrowing of my options," says Sam. "As soon as I went to Mayo, there was a team of physicians that I saw right away. They presented everything so clearly; the decision was really easy. I had a lot of confidence in the way my care was handled."
The decision that Sam made was to have surgery called ileoanal anastomosis. In this two-part surgery, physicians remove the diseased colon and rectum and create a pouch from the small intestine, which serves as a replacement colon. Sam's surgery was performed 20 years ago, and for Sam, it has proven to be a very effective long-term solution.
After Laura and Sam found effective treatments for their conditions, they felt liberated to again enjoy activities they once had given up, such as athletics, camping and hiking. But simply returning to normalcy wasn't enough for this couple.
In late summer 2006, the Kirsteins biked across the country — more than 4,000 miles from Seattle, Wash., to Portland, Maine. They called it the "Tour de Guts," organized to raise awareness of IBD and raise funds for research, as well as to spread hope to those with the disease.
"The ride is our way to spread the message that although these are debilitating diseases, people can still be active," says Laura."
The length of the ride demonstrates perseverance, a trait that was necessary for both Sam and Laura to find the right treatment for their illnesses. "We want to give the message that if you persevere, there is light at the end of the tunnel," says Laura.