‘You Can’t Live Very Long Like That.’
On a scale of one to 10, the pain in Josh Ober’s stomach was an eight.
“Actually, it was probably a nine,” says Ober, a 20-year-old piano tuner and motorcycle enthusiast from Lebanon, Pa., whose digestive troubles began eight years ago. Back then the pain was milder. And his irregular bowel movements and sporadic nausea, while worrisome, weren’t excruciating.
By January 2006, however, the pain had become unbearable, and Ober—who hates prescription drugs—was relying on pain killers and barely eating.
He stopped tuning pianos and worked only as much as necessary to pay his mounting medical bills. Eventually he just stopped eating, dropping down to 100 pounds—not enough weight for his 5-foot-8 frame.
Through the years, doctors diagnosed everything from irritable bowel syndrome to a hiatal hernia, lactose intolerance and acid reflux.
They never got it right, often performing the same lab tests over and over again, Ober says. So by the time he walked into the office of Hopkins gastroenterologist Mary Harris last April, he’d grown somewhat skeptical of doctors.
“I had more hope coming to Johns Hopkins,” Ober says. “I knew if I didn’t get answers there, I wasn’t going to get any answers at all.”
Ober was admitted to the hospital, where he remained for 10 days, receiving all of his nutrition intravenously while Harris and her staff ran lab tests to figure out his problem.
Harris diagnosed Crohn’s disease, a chronic disorder that tricks the body into believing its immune system is under attack. Estimated to affect between 400,000 and 600,000 people in North America, Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, often resulting in diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, obstructed bowels, rectal bleeding and weight loss—symptoms that Ober suffered from.
“The great thing was that at Hopkins, they only ran their tests once and knew exactly what the problem was,” Ober says.
But a correct diagnosis was only half the battle. Harris knew Ober would need surgery, so, during his hospital stay, she introduced him to surgeon Anne Lidor.
Ober’s bowels were almost completely obstructed by blockages in his rectum and small bowel, Lidor says. Had his condition gone on untreated, things would soon have gotten much worse.
“You can’t live very long with bowel obstruction like that,” Lidor says.
She scheduled Josh for a June surgery date and sent him home. Meanwhile, nurse practitioner Renay Tyler and the nutrition support team monitored his food intake and blood work.
Then, one week before surgery, Ober’s white blood cell count started dropping at an alarming rate, and his operation had to be rescheduled for September.
When Ober finally made it to the operating room, Lidor removed two blockages from his small bowel and another from his rectum. Because his rectum was so weak, she also performed an ileostomy (which she later removed), giving his rectum time to heal before he started having regular bowel movements again. The added complication caused the surgery—originally scheduled to last four hours—to take eight.
Since his surgery, Ober has gained 30 pounds and returned to work full time, tuning pianos and riding his motorcycle. He’s eating and keeping down food and isn’t having belly pain for the first time in years. Life, he says, is 100 percent better.
“My energy level is back.
I’ve been working a lot and spending a lot of time at church,” Ober says. “And now, I’m not in pain.”