Skip to main content.



Our IBD heroes demonstrate true strength and courage when they open up about their lives and share their IBD journeys. The following stories will inspire and empower you — and remind our patients that they are never truly alone.

Emily Oak

Towards the end of Emily’s sophomore year of high school, she knew something was wrong. She was in constant pain, running to the restroom frequently, had no appetite, and started losing weight. One day, she was rushed to the emergency room, where, after several tests and doctors, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and started treatment. The medications were only making her feel worse, and she ended up back in the hospital for emergency surgery to remove her entire colon. After several reversals, infections, and complications, she was finally successful with her last ostomy reversal and was able to start adjusting to her “new normal.” Emily now serves as a Team Captain for her Take Steps team Emily’s Got Guts, where she hopes to spread awareness and “invest in cures for the future while providing support to patients today.”

James Lo

James Lo was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when he was 13, a year after he started experiencing symptoms. Like many newly diagnosed patients, he was afraid, not knowing what a life with Crohn’s disease would mean for an active high school student like him and his future. Soon after, James connected with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and got involved with Take Steps as a Team Captain. Team James raised nearly $15,000 in its first year, and he now serves on the Take Steps Leadership Committee for his local walk, where he hopes to be a positive role model for other kids with IBD.

Margarita and Zen Wadher

Zen was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of four. He had a very difficult first two years on his IBD journey, which ultimately resulted in a colectomy and ileostomy. As Zen began to adjust to life with the ileostomy, his biggest complaint was how the bag irritated his skin. Zen and his mother quickly discovered that there were no underwear designed for kids with ostomies. Zen took it upon himself and created StomaZen — underwear created by a kid for kids! Zen’s mom, Margarita, has played a major role throughout her son’s IBD journey. Just like Zen, she recognized a gap that needed to be filled and took the reins as the leader of a local support group: The Parents of IBD Kids in Southern California. Margarita created a safe place for parents to turn to no matter where they are on the IBD journey — they know they are not alone.

Dr. Ross Maltz

Dr. Ross Matz is a pediatric IBD provider with a unique perspective. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease himself as a preteen, he was inspired to pursue a career in IBD care and now serves on the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. “Having the perspective of being a patient allows me to relate to my patients and be even more understanding and empathetic as I treat them.” Dr. Maltz has applied his passion for patient advocacy while serving on the National Scientific Advisory Committee with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation for many years. He has organized and attended the annual Washington, D.C. Day on the Hill. He has proudly served as a Team Captain for Nationwide Children’s Hospital at the Central Ohio Take Steps walk.

Local Honored Heroes

We honor patients and advocates at each Take Steps event nationwide each year. These local Honored Heroes are central to the mission of the Foundation , and their stories shed light on the difficult journey of IBD patients across the country. Each honored hero works with their local chapter to spread awareness in the community through their fundraising efforts and fearlessly sharing their story.

Know someone who would be a great Honored Hero? Nominate them today.


Share Your Story

Your story has the power to touch the lives of patients and their families living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Your story may inspire a patient to take that next step in their life or empower a patient to make that next difficult decision.


Crohn's and Colitis Foundation App

Fundraise More: Download the App

Raise more money and awareness right from the palm of your hand. Email your contacts for support directly from your phone, check fundraising progress, connect to social media, view event details, and more! Reaching your fundraising goal is easy and convenient when you have the app.