Take Steps Honorees understand first-hand how difficult — and empowering — it can be to live with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Honored Heroes share their stories to let other patients know they are not alone on their journeys — because no one should face the challenges and uncertainty of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in isolation. Through their stories, Honorees raise awareness of these diseases, raise funds in support of the Foundation’s mission, and inspire hope in those living with IBD.
To nominate a Take Steps Honoree, please contact your local walk staff.
Ryan was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 14. He got involved with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation in 2019 and stepped up immediately as a true leader for the Foundation.
Ryan is an avid believer in giving your time, talent, and treasure. Living up to that motto, he has been very active in the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Chapter as a Board Member. He served as the Co-Chair of the Take Steps Executive Council for the past two years raising $1,156,000 on this campaign during his leadership (his time). Ryan also helped pilot the Putts for Guts event raising $400,000 to date and that event will be going on its third year in 2023.
Ryan is CEO and Founder of Forge Apollo, an award-winning agency that specializes in digital marketing & video production. Ryan’s company donated significant time and resources to do video production for the Philadelphia Take Steps as well as the Evening of Hope Gala (his talent).
Ryan’s vision for Philadelphia Take Steps is for it to be the first Take Steps in the country to hit that million-dollar mark (his treasure). For Ryan, his three children and his wife, Take Steps is a family affair (also his treasure). Ryan and his family invite you to join them this year at the 2023 Take Steps event and can’t wait to celebrate with everyone at Lincoln Financial Field on June 25th.
In early 2010, life was great for Jackie who was a happy and healthy pregnant woman, expecting her first child, Liam. Labor and delivery went as planned and Jackie started on the journey of parenthood. In December 2010, she started experiencing stomach flu-like symptoms and she did what most people would do – self medicated and pushed through.
As a busy new mom, she got to a point where she could no longer ignore the pain, fevers, and weight loss and started looking for answer. Doctors questioned if this was due to early on-set menopause, Lyme’s disease, or gallbladder issues. Just when they started discussing the next steps and doing some more invasive testing, she found out that she was pregnant with her second son, Connor. Testing options came to a halt and this pregnancy wasn’t nearly as easy for Jackie. She was sick the entire time, with extremely low iron, and was put on bedrest due to preterm labor which was stopped twice.
After Connor was born, she immediately started to follow up with Gastrointestinal doctors. One day, Jackie’s husband Rich finally convinced Jackie that she needed to go to the Emergency Room. Countless vials of blood were drawn, CT scans, x-rays, and scopes. All of this happened while the Gears had two babies under two at home. Then, finally, they received a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, something neither of them had ever heard of.
Jackie missed Connor’s first birthday while in the hospital and that first year was full of testing, doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, failing treatments and simply not getting her Crohn’s under control. She felt like her body was on the brink of collapse. She ended up with a full blockage and several blood clots and transferred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). After a 5-day stay at HUP, they were able to avoid surgery and manage her blood clots. Over time, she achieved her goal of being home with her family with the help of weekly Humira injections. She was the mom, wife, professional and friend again that she was before diagnosis. Humira has been her miracle drug and has allowed her to continue in life in the way she chooses with very little restrictions.
After being diagnosed, she reached out to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. She got involved, met with staff members, and shared her story in hopes of finding someone who truly knew what I was going through. Her family joined the Take Steps program where she got to meet MANY other patients who understood her journey.
Her life was no longer being altered by Crohn’s disease, or so she thought… Jackie first started having Crohn’s Disease symptoms in 2010 and just 10 years later they were back at the hospital. This time, with Liam.
Jackie’s son Liam complained a bit about stomach aches. Due to the family history, they were very concerned, but doctors thought they were overreacting.
As the 2020 school year began virtually, Liam began passing a large amount of blood with his stool, several times a day. They took him for bloodwork but with more and more blood loss, the fear took the Gears to the emergency room. They knew immediately, this is it – and Jackie feared that she had passed the worst possible part of herself to Liam. Liam was diagnosed with IBD and after a few weeks of no response on pill treatments, the conversation quickly switched to biologics. The Gears just couldn’t wrap their heads around putting such a young child on a biologic knowing this would be for the rest of his life.
Over the course of the next year, they struggled to find the right treatment for Liam. During all of this, his iron levels were low which meant that the biologic infusions were now coupled with iron infusions. Although it was a must for Liam to get iron infusions, those same infusions created bone issues. He has had one cast so far, compression fractures in his back and additional doctor visits and tests to deal with this complication. He would seemingly start turning a corner, then suddenly be back to square one. After about 7 months of tweaking timing and dosages, doctors decided to change Liam’s medication. He has been getting Entyvio every 6 weeks since August 2021.
Struggling to gain weight at just 62lbs, and at just age 10, Liam learned how to cope with his new life – IVs every 6 weeks, several doctors’ appointments throughout the year, eating everything in moderation, continuing with school and life on difficult days, and recognizing when true rest is necessary. His diagnosis has forced him to grow up quickly, but with the help of his medications, Liam is now living a more normal life as a 12-year-old.
Together, Jackie and Liam make one heck of a team.
They are excited to be the 2023 Mother-Son Honored Heroes at the Philadelphia Take Steps event this June. They will raise funds for research, share their stories to spread awareness and hope that you will join them on June 25th at Lincoln Financial Field.
Dr. Adam Ehrlich is the Co-Director of the Temple Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Temple University Hospital. He also directs the Temple Gastroenterology Fellowship Program and where he is responsible for the training of our future gastroenterologists. He was inspired to pursue a career in treating patients with inflammatory bowel disease after experiences with several close family members and friends as well as after his training at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York (where Burrill Crohn worked in the early 20th century).
Dr. Ehrlich has been involved in the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation at all levels. He serves as a member of the National Scientific Advisory Committee’s Professional Membership subcommittee, the Regional Education Committee, and is a co-chair for the Delaware Valley Healthcare Professional Engagement Committee. He has also spoken at professional meetings to other providers and at local support groups and patient education days. Dr. Ehrlich has also been involved with Philadelphia Take Steps for the past 10 years and appreciates that Take Steps is a day that patients, caregivers, supporters, and healthcare professionals can all share together.
Dr. Ehrlich’s approach to an IBD patient is one of shared knowledge and decision-making. With the expansion of new therapies, he feels it is vital to include the patient in the process of deciding the right treatment plan and that an individualized approach strengthens the physician-patient relationship.
Outside of work, Dr. Ehrlich is a proud husband and father of 3 girls as well as a passionate Philadelphia sports fan.
We are thrilled to announce our 2023 Take Steps Corporate Honoree, Jeffrey D. Zudeck. Jeff is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Managing Partner at Marcum LLP. He is Chair of the Marcum Foundation in the Philadelphia Office and is also a key member of the Firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
Jeff got involved with the Foundation to advocate for family, friends and colleagues diagnosed with Crohn’s. He didn’t stop there. Jeff brought the whole Marcum team into the excitement of Philadelphia Take Steps and is known for putting the fun in fundraising.
Immediately following giving birth to her daughter, Oona, in June of 2001, Dawn knew that something wasn’t right with her health. It was supposed to be one of the happiest times of her life, but her stomach pain was so intense that she couldn’t even go for a walk with her baby girl or dog. She felt trapped in her home, and when she spoke to doctors, they said that she had just had a baby and to give it some time, but she knew in her heart that something was not as it should be.
After some testing, a nurse at the local hospital called her to deliver the news that she had Crohn’s Disease. Dawn had never heard of this disease, but quickly learned that it would impact her life in more ways than she could ever imagine.
She was on maternity leave from work, but when she returned, she experienced heavy anxiety. She was consumed with thoughts of getting sick on the job and what would she do? Crohn’s Disease, for Dawn, was something she was not yet comfortable talking about. Fortunately, she got connected with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation who connected her with her doctor at Jefferson Health, Dr. Tony Infantolino, and her outlook grew brighter.
The Foundation also supported Dawn emotionally through some of her hardest times. With time, Dawn learned how to manage her disease and some days are still better than others. She’s also enjoyed her involvement with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, volunteering at different events and fundraisers, sharing her story and hopefully serving as an inspiration that you can get through it, you can live a happy and productive life, and make a difference in the lives of others who share similar experiences. This is a community of support and encouragement, and that’s why Dawn is so excited to be this year’s 2023 Take Steps Media Honored Hero. She now gets to use her platform that she’s built, despite the stress that IBD put on her career, to celebrate the IBD community at our Take Steps Festival.
Donna McGee is celebrating her 25th year as a nurse and tenth year as an infusion nurse and she can’t think of any better way to celebrate those accomplishments than by being our 2023 Patient Advocate Honoree at Take Steps Philadelphia.
After leaving her career as a stage manager in NYC and nationwide production tours, Donna switched careers and started her journey into nursing. Since then, she’s witnessed the struggle of chronic illness with her family and patients and has embraced the importance of compassionate care and passionate patient advocacy.
Donna was first introduced to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation in the 1990’s when seeking help for her mom, as she navigated her new life with Celiac disease and a colostomy bag. She never would have guessed that 30 years later, she’d be known as the nurse at the walk with purple hair and now have Honored Hero status! In those early meetings, The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation was a lifeline in the chaos of bowel disease.
For Donna, as a patient advocate, she hopes to destigmatize IBD for patients and help them to accept their individual diagnosis and move forward with positivity. She will always fight for her patients, because a good quality of life is not an option–it’s a necessity. Throughout her career as an infusion nurse, she’s developed friendships that will last a lifetime and she feels privileged to provide comfort to her patients with the coveted “hole-in-one” on infusion days, jokes to lighten the mood, and the joy that comes over time when symptoms are under control, or better yet, in remission.
Participating in the Take Steps Festival for the past five years has been an opportunity to give back to the IBD community. Every year, it is always exciting to see the familiar faces and the new participants just stepping into the IBD world. Donna personally has had a blast shining a light on the Foundation and its goal of finding a cure for IBD.
Donna lives by a quote from a song written in 1945 by Alma Bazel Androzzo, “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.”