South Charlotte

Colitis sufferer makes a big comeback

Julie Novack, 44, is no stranger to dealing with chronic illness. She's had ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory disease of the large intestine, since she was 22. Symptoms of this digestive disorder are unpleasant and often serious.

Novack suffered for more than a year before she was properly diagnosed.

It was during this time that she met Steve Novack, 45, who would later become her husband. The Novacks live in the neighborhood with their soon to be 11-year-old son Gabriel.

It took several years and a lot of tweaking to figure out the right medication regimen to keep Julie's symptoms under control. As with many others with ulcerative colitis, she had periods of remission, with flare ups every couple of years.

On Feb. 13, 2006, Julie, a senior credit underwriter at Wells Fargo, came home early from work when she felt like she was getting the flu. She doesn't remember the two weeks that followed.

Steve took her to the emergency room when he got home and noticed something was wrong. His wife didn't recognize him. Although they didn't know it at the time, she had pneumococcal meningitis that was affecting her cognitive functioning.

Julie was not aware of anything that was happening, until she woke up in the hospital, surrounded by family. She was told that the meningitis was likely related to her weakened immune system from ulcerative colitis.

After being home for only 24 hours, Julie was rushed back to the ER for a horrible headache. It was determined that she suffered several mini strokes, a result of the meningitis.

The right side of Julie's body was affected and her ability to walk was impaired. She had a long and arduous recovery. This included first using a walker, then a cane and eventually walking on her own and going back to work. Steve was there every step of the way, working from home and taking her to all her medical appointments.

Even though she improved, Julie was left with the typical steroid-induced weight gain, a direct result of the medication she had to take.

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America provided an opportunity to help Julie get back in shape and raise funds for a worthy cause. She decided to participate in their Team Challenge, which is the foundation's endurance and fundraising program.

Participants raise funds (the amount varies according to each event), which go toward finding a cure for Crohn's and Colitis, conditions affecting 1.4 million Americans. In return for their contribution, participants are provided personalized training, a supportive team environment and airfare and lodging to the event.

Julie completed the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon in June and will be participating as a mentor in the upcoming Rock 'n' Roll half marathon this December in Las Vegas.

Although Julie has improved greatly, she still has some permanent effects from the meningitis and strokes. She has partial hearing loss, frequent headaches and poor balance.

Yet, she doesn't focus on the negatives of what she's been through, choosing to focus on the good.

She describes herself as becoming more thankful for everything in her life.

"Be thankful for every day God gives you," said Julie.

This is a philosophy she embraces, even down to her license plate, which reads: Toda - Hebrew for thank you.