You never realize the importance of the passenger seat airbag “ON” light illuminating until it doesn’t any longer. Little things like this are taken for granted. Kinda like how the sun will always rise. Until it doesn’t. So when the light glowed last week (for the first time in over a year) as my daughter Abigail settled into the seat, we were silent. It’s significance meant more than just the reassurance it provided, it meant my daughter was healing. The sun was rising and man was it bright.
At 82 pounds and 13 years old, she was slight but strong, her weight enough to allow her to sit in the front passenger seat. This was June 2016 and around this time, things started to change. Long tearful stints in the bathroom, tummy aches after every meal or snack. A general feeling of malaise that gripped her throughout the day. When she began spending more time on the couch in front of the TV, I knew something was up. The kid can’t sit still long enough to finish a commercial let alone an entire movie.
She’s always had food sensitivities and I suspected it was some sort of allergic reaction. She has a nut allergy that was discovered when she was three. Food journaling was the first step and I logged every morsel that went in her mouth and noted the reaction. Then I eliminated one thing at a time, starting with the most common culprits and allowed each to clear her system for three weeks. Eggs and dairy were the first to go, but no change. Then we eliminated gluten. Still no change. A few visits to the doctor and we were without answers. She muscled through, enduring the physical pain as well as the emotional pain that only school bullies can dish out.
Her lacrosse stick sat idle and remained so for nearly a year as we struggled for answers.
December rolled around and dealt yet another blow. My mom suffered a heart attack before Christmas and the days grew darker.
The skin beneath Ab’s eyes darkened and her skinny jeans looked more like relaxed fit. The sh$! finally hit the fan in February following my mother-in-law’s birthday party. Everyone went home and Ab retreated to the bathroom. As I cleaned the party aftermath, she called out for me, trying to hide the panic in her voice with little success. She was bleeding from her rectum and her abdomen was severely distended. Her profile resembled that of a child suffering from starvation. The reality of her condition would reveal that this wasn’t too far off.
At the emergency room, the nurse weighed her. She was down almost 10 pounds. Doctors ordered a scan for bowel obstructions but found nothing. We were relieved but so desperate for answers. We were sent to Comer Children’s Hospital and were greeted by a team of doctors and nurses specializing in GI disorders. Dr. Tiffany Patton was about to unmask the boogeyman. His name is SIBO [pronounced See-Bo].
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Her bouts with IBS with constipation were likely to blame for the explosion of bacteria in her small bowel. Slow motility made it possible for the bacteria to hang out and grow just long enough to cause malabsorption problems which lead to her weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. A blood test revealed allergies to eggs and soy which would account for why there was no apparent improvement when I removed the eggs and dairy from her diet. Any improvement that may have occurred from the elimination diet was overshadowed by the bigger issue. SIBO. Her stomach was already a mess and when nothing seemed to change, I reintroduced eggs to her diet hoping that the fat and protein source would help add a little bulk to her tiny frame.
I also discovered that soy is in EVERYTHING. In the bread I was using for her sandwiches. The chocolate in her ice cream. So I’m certain that those two things, soy and eggs, exacerbated her issues and led us to the emergency room that cold February night.
Following a two-week course of antibiotics and a three-month prescription for Visbiome, a mail-order probiotic that arrived in its own little cooler, Ab’s symptoms began to disappear. We’re lucky she loves fermented foods like kimchi, pickles, kombucha and sauerkraut. All help her maintain balance in her gut. By June 2017, she returned to her love, theater, and played the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. As corny as it sounds, it truly felt like we were over the rainbow.
This Christmas she received a new lacrosse stick from her Nana and will begin practicing with her high school team in a few weeks. I can’t wait to watch her tear across the pitch, daring anyone to catch her. At 92 pounds, she’s growing stronger by the day and enjoying food. And the cherry on top…my mom will celebrate her 70th birthday with us Friday. Life is good.
Paralyzing is the best way to sum up this last year. It’s agonizing watching your child suffer. While we know that SIBO will likely be a recurring and unwanted guest throughout her life, there’s strength in knowing how to beat it. It’s a condition that is often misdiagnosed and I hope that by sharing our experience, it may help you or someone you love who suffers with mysterious digestive issues.
Do you have SIBO? How do you manage it?
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