When Caroline Funderburg was in fifth grade, she missed 80 days of school.
An avid soccer player, she also began to struggle to keep up with her team, experienced chronic abdominal pain and stopped growing.
Her parents, Alex and Patty Funderburg, had her tested for stress and food allergies in an attempt to determine the cause of her gastrointestinal distress. The diagnosis they finally received – that Caroline suffers from Crohn’s Disease – marked a turning point not only for Caroline but her parents as well.
Alex Funderburg now serves as president of the Carolinas Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, known under the category of inflammatory bowel disease, are incurable illnesses that attack the sufferer’s digestive system.
“Caroline’s diagnosis was a relief at first,” Alex Funderburg said. “But as we realized the potential long-term effects of Crohn’s, our relief turned to concern.”
Both he and his wife decided to commit to raising funds to “accelerate the research and improve the quality of care” for their daughter and others like her.
The primary way they accomplish both goals is by participating in the annual nationwide Take Steps Walk, the country’s largest walk dedicated to finding a cure for digestive diseases, which will be held June 1 at Freedom Park.
“It is a great way to connect us and provide support,” says Alex Funderburg, who serves as co-chairman of the Charlotte event. “And it is also a great way to get the medical community involved.”
Sophie Marx, a sixth-grader at Providence Day School, will be walking for the third time. Diagnosed at age 10 after suffering weight loss and anemia, she is one of the many pre-adolescent children who represent the 50 percent increase in the incidence of the disease among children from 10 years ago.
“It made Sophie feel so much better to do the walk,” said Sophie’s mother, Amy Marx. “She was able to see all the support that is out there and know that it is a group effort.”
Caileigh Brady, 12, a sixth-grader at Holy Trinity, will serve as the Honored Hero for the Take Steps Walk. Diagnosed two years ago, she is eager to share her story and “show other people who have Crohn’s that you can’t let it control you, rather you control it,” she said.
Despite several surgeries and medical interventions, Caileigh says she wants to “show other kids like me that you can still live a normal life, be active and good at things, and above all be happy.”
“It can be managed, but there is often a trial and error to find the right treatment option” said Alex Funderburg.
The treatment, which ranges from medicine to shots, infusions and surgeries, often must be adjusted and can come with significant side effects.
Everyone participating in the Take Steps Walk is hoping for a cure. They are raising the money to support national research and development, with many of the grant dollars funneled back to North Carolina because, as Funderburg says, “we have so many of the leading doctors and researchers in this state.”
An immediate benefit, however, is raising awareness of the disease, which can be as stigmatizing as it is debilitating.
“At first I was afraid to let other people know about my disease because I was embarrassed,” Caileigh said, “but having Crohn’s is teaching me to have self confidence and to not be afraid of who I am and the disease I have.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Do you have a story idea for Katya? Email her at email@example.com.
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