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Doctor: 'Her story is inspirational'

A Costa Mesa resident survived multiple surgeries for intestinal problems and now wants to help others with such conditions.

January 09, 2011|By Joanna Clay, joanna.clay@latimes.com
  • Jennifer Martin
Jennifer Martin (Photo by Paul R.…)

While most people don't like to talk about inflammatory bowel disease — it's not exactly coffee chatter — Jennifer Martin is happy discussing how her surgery to treat it saved her life.

In April 2009, the 27-year-old Costa Mesa resident was finishing up her doctorate in psychology when she had a painful flare of ulcerative colitis, which caused extreme pain and the loss of 30 pounds. Already a petite woman, Martin shriveled to 82 pounds.

She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2007 after her bowel movements started to frighten her. She would go to the restroom up to 20 times a day, and often found blood in her stool.

"I didn't know what was going on and was freaking out," she said.

Because colitis causes the lining of the intestinal tract to deteriorate, Martin compared the act of eating to the sensation of "a knife slicing through my insides."

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Martin was first admitted to Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach in April. Doctors ran tests but eventually concluded that there was only one option: surgery.

She was transferred to UCI Medical Center in Orange, the only integrated surgical and medical center for inflammatory bowel disease in Orange County.

Dr. Steven Mills, a colorectal surgeon, said Martin came in with severe malnutrition and anemia.

"I remember she just seemed tiny," Mills said. "I don't mean just in size, but she was just deflated … she had no energy."

Martin's three surgeries involved removing her colon and eventually creating a J-pouch, which took over for the colon.

But Martin had a scare in September, when her pouch twisted. Doctors at UCI Medical Center had to go in and attach it to her backbone so that the scar tissue would properly form.

Dr. Nimisha Parekh, director of UCI's Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, describes Martin's recovery as nothing short of miraculous.

"Her story is inspirational. She didn't give up," Parekh said. "She continues to face her challenges with such strength and calmness."

Two weeks after her second surgery, Martin completed her dissertation. However, she still has to complete intern hours before she receives her license as a psychologist.

Then one day she ran an idea by Parekh. She decided she'd like to specialize in therapy for those affected by colitis, Crohn's disease and other chronic illnesses.

"It has a huge physical toll, but there's a huge mental toll as well," Martin said.

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