‘UM Chronies’ organize fundraising walk for digestive disease

Three University of Miami students have raised more than $2,000 in two weeks and mobilized Hecht Residential College to participate in a nationwide walk for digestive diseases.

Take Steps for Chron’s and Colitis, which will take place in Ft. Lauderdale April 12, is the nation’s largest event dedicated to finding cures for digestive diseases. The Chron’s and Colitis Foundation of America estimate that one million Americans have Inflammatory Bowel Disease, half with Chron’s disease and half with Colitis. They are similar autoimmune diseases characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Jeff Brody, a freshman Hecht resident who initiated the event at his tower, began experiencing symptoms of Chron’s just before classes started in the fall. Before he got it under control, he said the disease harmed his social life because he couldn’t go out.

Brody later learned that his resident assistant, sophomore Bryan Llenas, was diagnosed with Chron’s.

“Let’s face it. It’s not a disease that’s easy to talk about,” Llenas said of the disease, which causes persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain and rectal bleeding. “It’s not good dinner conversation.”

Llenas, who administers biweekly injections to himself, was hospitalized in February and missed nearly a month of school. During this time, Brody was looking for a way to get involved in finding a cure when he discovered the Take Steps walk.

Brody and Llenas shared the idea with Hecht Resident Coordinator Leyla Ahmed Al-Monsoori, and they decided to make the walk a building-wide event.

The first 45 Hecht residents that sign up will receive free transportation, dinner and a T-shirt. So far, 30 residents are registered.

“I thought it would be a good way to raise awareness of a disease that impacts a lot of people within this age group,” Al-Monsoori said.

As soon as the UM Take Steps for Chron’s and Colitis Facebook group was set up, Brody started receiving messages from strangers who had been affected by the disease in one way or another and wanted to help.

Llenas said freshman Jim Deiotte, one of his floor members, is the “master fundraiser.” Although he is not a Chron’s patient, his brother was diagnosed this past summer.

Deiotte said he is obtaining donations by e-mailing everyone on his contact list. The donations are being made at CCTakeSteps.org, where 83 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to the Chron’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s research, education and support initiatives.

These UM “Chronies,” as they call themselves, said that living with the disease can be difficult. But they all agree it has also had a positive impact on their lives by strengthening their friendship.

“What better way to form a bond than fighting for a noteworthy cause?” Llenas said.

Victoria Genuardi may be contacted at v.genuardi@umiami.edu.

UM’s Chron’s Facebook group is http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=12067471605