Boy's cancer scare turns to lifelong GI struggle

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Like many middle school students, Pete Maxson stays busy with school activities. You'd never guess his life came to a screeching halt after a trip to the bathroom three years ago, at age 11.

After going, he looked down and saw blood.

"I was freaking out," he said.

His mother, Erin took him to the doctor where she was told they thought he had cancer.

"They said, 'mom, you have to sit down,' and I said, 'I don't want to sit down. I know what that means.' You know, I was very scared," she recalled.

But specialists at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital found the real problem. Pete has ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. While many think of IBD as an adult disease, pediatric Gastrointestinal Specialist Dr. Michael Wilsey says ulcerative colitis even strikes infants.

"Children are unique, because not only do they have abdominal pain and diarrhea, they also have issues with growth and development," Wilsey explained.

The cause of IBD and ulcerative colitis isn't clear, but some believe it may be related to heredity, living in our 'too clean' modern society, or even bacterial imbalances in the gut.  Whatever the trigger, the body basically attacks itself.

Read Part I of this 3-part series on ulcerative colitis here: Colon removal blessing for ulcerative colitis patient

"It's thought that there's a glitch somehow in the immune system, of the digestive tract. Somehow the immune system gets turned on and has trouble turning off," Wilsey said.

Now, Pete spends four hours every two weeks getting infusions of a drug called Remicade. It isn't a cure, but it keeps IBD in check by suppressing Pete's immune system. However, that also puts him at risk for serious infections.

"It’s very easy for him to get sick. We all get flu shots, we even try to keep everything extra clean, because he can get very sick," Erin explained.

His mother said she is amazed at how tough Pete can be, even when faced with horrible pain.

"It floors me. I'm so blessed, so blessed. I'm so proud of him," Erin said.