Melvin Allen’s always been an active kind of guy—on the basketball court or in the gym, he was always on the go.
But nine years ago, that all changed in a hurry for the new Deptford High School principal.
A self-described “bigger guy” at 6-2, Allen suddenly shed close to 80 pounds in a matter of months after he turned 25. He was drained of energy, and those regular workouts got harder and harder, with little to show for the hours in the gym.
Stomach cramps set it, and the pain, well—Ridley Scott has nothing on what Allen’s experienced.
“It almost feels like an alien trying to come out of your body,” he said.
Or if not an alien, at least something on the level of kidney stones—severe enough, Allen said, that it would keep him stuck at home some days.
A trip to his doctor led Allen to a gastroenterologist, and after some questions and a colonoscopy, the verdict was in:
Allen was suffering from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
Managing the disease, which can cause intestinal blockages or ulcers on top of the inflammation, can be a challenge, but Allen’s had success.
He’s had the most luck with the drug Remicade, an artificial antibody he takes via an infusion every other month. But while that works for him, it might not for others who suffer from Crohn’s. Treatments vary depending on where the inflammation occurs and how severe it is.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Allen said.
Besides the drug, Allen said remaining active and keeping to an exercise regimen has been key in managing flare-ups of the disease.
“The flares are real, but we can work past that,” Allen said.
There are more serious complications from Crohn’s, though, like an intestinal blockage he experienced in the last year. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that’s not uncommon, and that two-thirds or more of Crohn’s patients can expect to have to undergo surgery at some point in their lives.
All in all, the math teacher-turned-school administrator said his decade of experience with Crohn’s has been humbling, and has made him want to reach out to others dealing with the disease.
“It is not the end of the world,” Allen said.
The most important thing, he said, is to appreciate yourself and take care of your body—if anything, living with Crohn’s has taught him to savor the good days in life.
“I think regardless of what you have, it’s one day at a time and we’ll get through it,” said Allen.
Local support for Crohn’s disease is available through the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. They can be reached by phone at 888-340- 4744 or online at ccfa.org/chapters/philadelphia.